Are you donating to one of America's worst charities?

The Tampa Bay Times has done some excellent investigative reporting on the 50 worst charities in America — organizations that took in more than $1 billion over the past 10 years, and gave almost all of that money to their own staffs and professional solicitors. The series explains how charities like this operate and skirt the regulatory system. But if you're feeling TLDR, there's also a PDF that can help you quickly figure out if you're donating to one of these scams. A large portion of the 50 worst is made up of charities devoted to cancer and veterans' issues.


    1. Who the hell wants these people in their home, forever?
      Now if you’d auction off their seized properties and possessions, then we’re cooking with gas.

  1. Damn, I always give to American Children of Sheriffs with Military-related Breast Cancer Development Fund.

  2. I found it interesting that there wasn’t a single environmental or civil rights organization in that list. It seems to be almost entirely about veterans, police, cancer and THE CHILDREN!

    1. No animal cruelty charities in there, either.
      Like you mentioned, lots of veterans and police.  Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, easy waters for con men to navigate and depredate in.

      Now that they’ve done the Worst List, it would be an excellent idea to do a Best List also.

      1. I suggest
        The optimal philanthropy movement is pretty interesting, I think.

    2. When my husband was a state auditor, he hated dealing with fire districts. He hated the way the charities they usually ran were so casually sorted out there was no way to deal with the money. It was the same district after district, and we went from donating to those causes to avoiding them. Apparently those “boot drives” where you put cash directly into the firefighter boot are the worst because it’s all cash, and there is no accountability. They buy themselves pizza and beer out of those funds first before it goes to the charity, and since it’s not counted at all, then there is no accountability until the point they actually give what is left to the charity. 

      1. Fuuuuuuuuccckkkkk…I’ve actually throw some coins in those boot drives.  I fucking hate those boot drives.  Good to know.  

      2. I suggest you look at this from another perspective.  A complete stranger thrusts an article of footwear in your face and requests that you place a portion of your own money in it.  Call me cynical or unadventurous, but my philosophy is keep drivin’.

    3.  These things all appeal to the elderly and senile.  I mean that quite seriously – my 92-year-old great aunt, who was just moved to the “memory care” wing of her nursing home, has been recieving dozens of solicitations a month for years now from these charities (along with Faux News Style “Christian” ministries devoted to saving her from having that Kenyan Socialist Obama steal her purse in the night.)  My mother has tried and tried to use her power of attorney to get these parasites to stop their solicitations.  When she took away my aunt’s checkbook, she found stashes of envelopes with 5 and 10 dollar bills stuffed in them. Thank goodness my great aunt is no longer coherent enough to remember where she put the stamps.  She’s a sucker for anything that appeals to her vaguely-remembered sense of social order.

    1. No wonder DSO went insolvent.  Cut $200k out of that salary, and you’ll still find plenty of eager, qualified people to run that organization.

  3. I hate to say it, but as a man on the “inside” I am glad that none of the charities we call for or on this list. 

    I can tell you that asking how much money goes to the charity is pointless, at least in our situation. The system is that 100% of your donation goes directly to the charity, which seems altruistic until you understand that the charity pays them to make the calls and nobody below the VP knows exactly how much.

  4. FWIW, a TED talk challenging the pdf’s metrics of “best” and “worst”:

    That said, to take the example of cancer charities, even if less were spent on fundraising and more on research, the investments would still favor profits over cures. As Clay Shirky put it, “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

    More worthwhile may be promoting scientific literacy and journal access, focusing on studies of promising but unpatentable compounds, unlikely to be selected, therefore, for clinical trials. Consider donating to a lobbying-watchdog or a legal team challenging gene patents.

    1. “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
      You really think a cancer research institute would suppress it if they found something effective? It’s really not doable to find a simple cure-all-cancers treatment, so even if they found a great 99%+ cure for something they could start looking at one of the other variants – not to mention that the publicity would let them do whatever they wanted for a long while.

      (And there have been treatments like that – cisplatin against testicular cancer and the different regiments against Hodgkin’s lymphoma are both near-enough wonder cures compared to what went before.)

      The BRCA patents are horrible, though.

      1. I really do, and it’s in their interests not to look. They neglect, for example, the dozens of articles not only showing that cannabinoids trigger apoptosis in a wide variety of cancer types but even elucidating their signaling pathways.

        Have some review articles. They’re even easier to distribute than pink ribbons:

        As you say, pharma companies can and do make synthetic analogs, pricing them to recoup research and approval costs, hoping the efficacy and side-effects are tolerable, but this makes less sense when millions have access to the plant already.

        See also the literature on the proapoptotic terpenes and immunomodulatory beta-glucans of medicinal mushrooms.

        1. Keep in mind that there’s a large gap between cancer research institutions and the pharma business; the research in most of the former is far cheaper, and not really aimed at producing concrete marketable compounds. It should be fairly easy to get a basic researcher to add a given chemical to the panel of stuff they test on their cell lines/mice/whatever (assuming it’s something they can actually buy).

          How much good that does if no pharma company then looks at their results and decides to try creating a sellable drug out of it is another question … I’d personally be quite happy if some richer countries (e.g. my native Norway) decided that drug development was too important to be left to the profit seekers.

  5. Fortunately my favorite charity didn’t make the list.

    The Human Fund. Money. For People.

  6. Helpful hint #1: never give out money to someone who asks you for it.  If you want to support a charity, research one and give on your own initiative.  It’s also a nice, comfortable sentence with which to end a panhandling call.

  7. One of the things I feel most ashamed about in my life is that in my early twenties I was a scammy charity telemarketer for a few weeks.  I was young and naive and truly didn’t realize that not all registered charities were very charitable.   I went to work for a non-profit telemarketer and thought it was going to be awesome.  I was going to be able to make money and help worthy causes at the same time.  It sounded like a perfect situation for me.  But one night I was doing a little research trying to find some more statistics and success stories and such that weren’t on our pre-prepared scripts so that I could do an even better job raising money (yeah, I was a go getter and I truly believed that I had been presented an opportunity to make a difference while I made a living.).  And then I discovered how incredibly little of the money actually went to help the people I thought we were helping.  Fairly well all of the charities we raised money for are featured on that list in the article.  I felt literally sick.    I couldn’t raise money for a scam and couldn’t bear to take advantage of other people who thought they were doing something nice. Everyone has a budget, so every dime that went those charities not only didn’t help anyone but also diverted that dime away from being donated to a real charity that would.  I couldn’t work there even one more shift.  I still feel awful thinking about it.  A few other employees quit with me when I revealed why I was quitting.  The bosses did not.  It was not news to them at all.  They apparently knew what kind of place they ran.  Shame on them. 

  8. One of those scammy veterans charities tried to pull a fast one on my business last week.  Luckily, having experienced the whole mess with the telemarketing thing, I’m SUPER picky about who I donate to.  And not only was I vigilant enough to discover they weren’t on the up and up and save wasting a donation on them, I was able to make the poor elderly veteran they sent out to pick up my donation aware of what kind of organization he was working for.  He was a legitimately honorable man who truly believed he was helping other veterans and was being duped just like I was when I was young. Poor guy.  I felt awful for him,too. 

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