In an effort to bring more transparency to the charity world, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) stands accused of tarnishing the good name of some otherwise legitimate charities.
Read more: Clark’s charity giving guide
Are these the ‘Top 10 Transparency Dodgers’?
First, a little background: You already know that the BBB specializes in rating businesses and how they interact with consumers. But did you know the organization also rates charities?
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) — otherwise known to Clark Howard’s audience as Give.org — has a voluntary rating program that charities can participate in if they wish.
NBC News reports that to participate, the charities have to answer more than 250 questions ranging from how they handle governance and oversight to how they implement fund-raising solicitations to how deep their pockets run on the financial side of things. The BBB WGA does not rely solely on tax forms and annual reports as other perennial Clark favorites like CharityWatch.org and CharityNavigator.org do, hence the extreme battery of questions that charities face.
So without further ado, here are the 10 charities named as ‘transparency dodgers’ by the BBB WGA:
1. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
2. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
3. Teach For America
4. NeighborWorks America
5. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
6. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
7. City Year
8. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
10. Local Initiatives Support Corporation
The charities respond
As you can see, there are some pretty heavy hitters in the philanthropic world included on the list. But not so fast…the charities themselves have some issues with the BBB WGA and its vetting system!
More than half of the groups say they were never contacted by the BBB WGA. These charities include The Kennedy Center, Teach For America, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, City Year, Pact and NeighborWorks America.
For its part, the BBB maintains that each charity was sent three letters requesting info during a two-month period — the last one via certified mail! In addition, the charities were also told last month that their names would be released on the ‘transparency dodgers’ list unless they’d like to step up with the info the BBB needed to rank them.
So it’s a bit of a he said/she said scenario. You’re not entirely sure who to believe!
But it’s certainly worth noting that The Kennedy Center, Teach For America, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and City Year are independently rated by CharityNavigator. Each received the highest possible mark from that respected organization — four out of four stars. Dana Farber also gets four stars out of four too.
(Pact and NeighborWorks America are not yet rated by CharityNavigator.)
Garnering three stars in the CharityNavigator tally were The Holocaust Memorial Museum and Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Fred Hutchinson, meanwhile, doesn’t depend on support from individual contributors and foundations, therefore it’s not eligible for rating.
Clearly, those are some ringing endorsements for charities that were sullied by the BBB!
The philanthropic world has been quick to cast aspersions on the BBB tally. Nonprofit Quarterly notes, ‘NPQ is forced to conclude that with its Top 10 list, BBB WGA is promoting a sensationalized approach to nonprofit accountability based upon an organization’s responsiveness to a single private organization seeking voluntary information.’
Here are some more important tips to keep in mind when donating to any charity:
- Don’t give cash. Legitimate charities will take a check.
- Don’t give credit card, bank account or personal information to telemarketers. If you want to donate, initiate the call yourself.
- Don’t give to Internet appeals if the cause does not look legitimate and doesn’t check out. Traditional frauds have gone electronic in recent years, giving con artists easy access to thousands of potential victims.
- Don’t give in to pressure. Anyone that can’t wait for a donation while you check out his or her organization is likely to be a crook.
- Expect specific information. Ask what kind of relief this organization is going to provide. Don’t give to a vague appeal.
- Check out the charity with national, state and local authorities. Established charities register with the Internal Revenue Service. You can search for specific non-profit organizations on the IRS website, IRS.gov.
- Beware of newly formed organizations. If the charity is new, you may have to rely on your relationship with the company or sponsor of the organization to determine whether you trust the group.
- Report abuses to the nearest Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General’s office. Both are listed in local telephone directories. You can also report abuses to the National Fraud Information Center at (800) 876-7060. NFIC also has a web-based complaint form at Fraud.org.
- Do give. Scammers are out there. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be generous. With the sites listed above that vet various charities, you can give with confidence.