Incomplete Data Means Insufficient Results

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Data is key to enacting workable policies that help people. Governments and non-profits alike need data in order to figure out who needs help, and what help they need. None of that should come as much of a surprise to people in the non-profit sector, but data is never perfect. We appreciate data and we might even reify it, but the fact remains that data is not objective because it has to be collected by subjective people. Even when data is gathered by computers, those computers were programmed by people, and people have blind spots.

Take, for example, women and girls. There is a huge gender gap in data collected globally. Especially as it concerns economic activity, many women are simply ignored in census data and the like. Remember back in the 70s and 80s, when women were “joining” the workforce, and everybody thought that was new? It wasn’t. Women have always been working, but the men designing censuses or academic studies were ignoring them, because they weren’t thinking about the working class, or they didn’t consider housework to be “real work,” or think about things like second jobs.

The real world is, and always has been, far more complicated than most people assume. People in the non-profit sector know that, at some level, but data collection can still miss things. This is why there needs to be a more concentrated effort to collect data on, and subsequently understand, the issues faced by women and girls around the world. There are programs in place to do exactly that, but what we need is change, a shift in the paradigm, whatever cliché you want to use. We need to get to a point where we don’t have to think “what about women?” because we’re already investigating their issues and concerns as well.

Donation Drive Rakes In 21,000 Pounds of Goods

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Each year the University of Virginia’s Office of Sustainability holds what they call Chuck It For Charity. The event gives students the opportunity to donate unwanted goods they might otherwise throw away, which are collected and sorted. Partnered local charities are then given the opportunity to come by and select whatever goods from the collection that they want, for free.

This year, students donated around 21,000 pounds of goods, which is down from last year’s 23,556 pounds, but is actually an increase in the amount of goods donated. The difference comes because another campus event, the IT department’s e-cycling drive, didn’t fall during Chuck It, but was held during Earth Week. That means there were less personal electronics donated by students this year, which can impact the overall weight of the items. Had the two events coincided again, chances are there would have been a donation increase across all measurements.

Still, fiddly math aside, that’s quite a lot of donations, which goes to show that college students are more than willing to donate, when they think they can afford to or have something worth giving away. Other universities, as well as primary and secondary schools, could stand to learn from the University of Virginia’s model. Donation drives like this can appeal to people who want to help, but don’t have a lot to give. Donating clothes you no longer wear or dishes you don’t need is more manageable than donating money when you’re living week to week on paychecks or scholarships or money from home. And getting rid of the clutter can certainly feel refreshing, giving donors an additional sense of well-being: they’re helping themselves and others at the same time.

In addition, drives like this can bring out the charitable nature in all kinds of people, helping them to realize how much good they can do in the world regardless of their own position.

Yet More Evidence that Trump Lies About Donations

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Usually when people commit charity fraud, they at least try to cover it up somehow. Donald Trump, however, either doesn’t know how or doesn’t care. Fraud may be too strong of a word for it, or at least too technical. Over the years, Trump has claimed again and again that he’s given millions to charities. He claimed that he has signed over all the proceeds from his book or that product to some unspecified non-profit. But an investigation by the Washington Post has shown that Trump has been lying pretty much every time about actually donating or how much he’s donating.

Trump has a foundation named after him, which is supposed to handle the actual moving of money to charities, but he hasn’t been donating his own money to that foundation since 2008. These kinds of foundations, which more often than not are totally legitimate, can be used to cover up fraud quite convincingly. But you have to try. Instead, Trump just doesn’t donate, claims he does, and moves on.

He uses charity as a business tactic. Not exactly in the way that companies use donating proceeds to generate positive buzz. Customers feel good because they got a product and helped somebody out, but they didn’t, really, because Trump just pocketed that money. Or maybe used it to pay for legal fees.

Hopefully, people reading about Trump’s constant misuse of the spirit of charity see him as the bad guy, and not the non-profit sector. Americans donate a lot of money each year, and that’s wonderful, but it’s hard to shake the fear that charity fraud, or things akin to it, might tarnish the sector in some people’s eyes. Either way, Trump certainly isn’t setting a good example.

Charity Navigator Gives St. Vincent de Paul Chicago Highest Rating


Recently, Charity Navigator, which is the nation’s largest independent evaluator of nonprofits, gave St. Vincent de Paul Chicago a four star rating, the best they can give. That rating can only be claimed by about one quarter of the nonprofits rated by the organization, and is predicated on a complex matrix of qualifications.

Charity Navigator is concerned with, among other things, accountability and transparency. They rate charities based upon how well they uphold industry best practices, and their metrics are designed to determine not only how well a charity raises money, but how they spend that money, and how they claim to be spending that money. 17 metrics focused solely on accountability and transparency make up half of the system, putting significant weight on how well a charity relates to donors.

It’s important that donors know how their money is being spent, in order to make sure that they want to donate to a given charity. And key to that is transparency. By being honest about how money is spent, charities show their donors that they’re worth trusting. Nonprofits that don’t disclose how they spend their money come off as less trustworthy, whether they’re fraudulent or not.

St. Vincent de Paul Chicago joins the ranks of four star charities because of their continued dedication to alleviating poverty in Cook and Lake counties of Illinois. They have performed that mission with the utmost dedication to transparency and accountability, using industry best practices and holding to an ethical code.

Unfortunately, there are many charities that fall outside of that four star rating. Some are simply too small or too new to get accurate readings for and some are considered fraudulent because of a refusal to engage with transparency. Fraudulent nonprofits, the kind that routinely crop up in the news, tend not to be particularly forthright with how they spend the money they raise.

Trump Said He’d Donate Book Money to Charity, But He Didn’t

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again

Just when you thought there weren’t any more examples of Donald Trump lying about his charitable activities, here comes another story. Last year, Trump vowed that the proceeds from sales of his newest book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, would go to veterans’ charities. Ignoring for a moment the grossly ableist language of the title, it turns out that Trump has made somewhere between $1 million and $5 million of the books (200,000 plus sales), and that none of that has gone to charity. Of course it hasn’t.

As the Huffington Post points out, Trump is using the promise of charity for publicity. While people applaud him for giving, he’s actually not. He’s tricking other people into donating (people who generally can’t donate all that much in the first place) by promising that he’ll donate a lot. But he never does, and he never has. Charity is just another tool to political power.

What kind of president would Trump be, if he can’t even bring himself to donate some of his apparently huge wealth to charitable causes? Not only does he not donate, but he routinely lies about doing so, revealing a disregard for the truth. He doesn’t respect his voters, and he doesn’t respect the veterans he continually promises to help. And, of course, when the Huffington Post tried to reach out to members of his campaign, and to the executive at Simon & Schuster, who published the book, nobody responded. That doesn’t exactly paint the whole issue in a positive light, does it?

Trump is, through sheer force of money and bullying, someone with no small amount of influence in this country. He actually stands a chance of being elected president, and he sets a terrible standard for charity. His constant lying about his donations is dangerous, not just because lying is par for the course for this man, but because it creates a poor model for people who respect him. Don’t expect a Trump victory to usher in a new era of American generosity.

How to Avoid Charity Phone Scams

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is an estimated 1,685,210 people that will be diagnosed with a form of cancer in 2016. With this shocking rate, there’s a high possibility that we know or are someone who is affected by cancer. Because of this reason, scammers have used this opportunity to pretend to be a charitable organization dedicated to putting an end to cancer.

There are many great charitable organizations that use your donations to make a difference in the world, however, the Federal Trade Commission filed charges in 2015 against a few cancer “charities” that lied to donors. Rather than using donations to assist cancer patients, these “charities” spent them on luxury vacations and personal use.

How were the criminals able to acquire almost $200 million in donations? Telemarketing campaigns. It can be very hard to identify a fake charity phone scam since the callers use fake identities and spoofed caller ID’s to cover up their phone numbers.

Here are three simple ways you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of charity phone scams:

1) Ask for details
Ask the caller for additional information including their full name, charity’s location and how donated funds are used. A fake representative might not be able to answer, get defensive, or even end the call.

2) Verify the legitimacy of the organization
Verify both the organization’s existence and credentials. Legitimate charities should be registered with your state and national organizations can be verified through The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.

3) Don’t disclose your information
Avoid providing personal or financial information over the phone, especially if you’re asked for payments. A majority of charities now give the option for online donations via their website.

If you suspect a charity phone scam, make sure to report it immediately to FTC.

Urban Ministries Charity CEO Praised for Taking a Low Salary


The head of Urban Ministries of Durham was recently praised from a national, independent charity evaluator, Charity Navigator, for managing a highly rated charity but taking a smaller than expected paycheck.

With revenue of almost $2.7 million, Urban Ministries’ Executive Director Sheldon Mitchell receives a salary of $85,000. This ranks the organization fourth in Charity’s Top 10.

“The leaders of these 10 organizations run highly-rated charities, yet they earn far less than the average compensation of $150,000 reported by the over 7,000 charities rated. The low salaries help these charities, which have earned at least two consecutive 4-star ratings, devote more than 80 percent of their budgets to their programs and services,” according to Charity Navigator.

In an interview with Triangle Business Journal, Mitchell stated that an accomplishment he was most proud of in the past year for Urban Ministries was that during their last full fiscal year, they helped 237 people end their homelessness. With no longer offering just a bed for the night, the organization now offers a case manager and a personalized plan to end homelessness for every person that checks into their shelter. In addition, they’ve offered emergency services for more than 30 years: free groceries and clothing to poor families in the community and three free meals to anyone who is hungry in their Community Café. Urban Ministries served more than a quarter-million meals and assisted with 480 households monthly.

Durham’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are becoming increasingly popular, causing rent prices to rise. Because people with minimum-wage jobs can’t keep pace, it’s making it harder than ever for even employed poor people to escape homelessness. To help address these concerns, Urban Ministries launched their Workforce Development effort to train homeless clients to get good-paying jobs. The organization is seeking new partner employers in construction, retail, laundry, culinary, facilities maintenance, and landscaping industries.

UK Charity Helps Kids Recognize Abusive Relationships


In the United Kingdom, the anti-abuse charity Tender is working to help kids avoid abusive relationships by teaching them how to recognize those relationships and the kinds of actions that are abusive. Many of the students that they work with are around 13 or 14 years of age, but they already live in a world in which they are at risk of being assaulted or abused. The charity receives a number of requests from primary schools looking for help teaching kids under 11 about the same topics.

According to recent research, over 5,500 sex crimes in UK schools were reported to police over the last three years. 27% of schoolchildren repot knowing someone who was raped or sexually assaulted, and 22% report knowing someone who has been controlled by a partner or friend. Chances are, as reporting such problems is still difficult for many young people to do, these numbers do not accurately reflect just how many children face these problems, especially because another report outlined that many instances are ignored by school officials or law enforcement.

While it seems like the frequency of sexual violence in British schools is increasing, it’s not entirely clear if that is because it actually is increasing, or if more instances are being reported due to increased awareness. Hopefully it’s the latter, and in either case, Tender is working hard to give kids the tools they need to recognize abuse and report it.

The organization isn’t funded well enough to help every school that requests their help, but that too will hopefully change in the future. As their workshops gain steam and more and more schools come to them for help, those school might be able to net additional funding to support such workshops. Educators seem to be on board and agree that there is enough time in the school day to address the kinds of relationships kids are having, and help the learn to make decisions that are right for them.

Christian Charity President Admits to Embezzling Funds

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

In 2010, World Ambassadors, Ltd. had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS after failing to file an annual disclosure of its income and spending. That may have been because the organization was more of less broke, since co-founder and president Jon S. Petersen had been embezzling funds from the group since 2010. Between then and 2014, he admits to embezzling $475,000 in which he used to fund a sex addiction.

Petersen was found out after his own tax filings from 2013 failed to report $114,000, which he had taken from the charity. Although no sentencing date has been set, Petersen plead guilty and faces up to three years in prison, and may be required to pay back donors who supported World Ambassadors. That may be difficult, as he also racked up a lot of credit card debt and used home equity lines of credit to fund his sex addiction.

World Ambassadors was founded in 1993 by Petersen and his wife, with the goal of providing Christian outreach to international students on college campuses. It only had about a dozen contributors annually, but they still managed to donate quite a bit, considering how much Petersen managed to steal. Although stripped of its tax-exempt status, the organization remained registered as a nonprofit, and was in good standing with the state of Iowa.

The details of how Petersen spent the money haven’t been released, but they aren’t important. What matters is that he broke the trust of the donors who believed in his group’s mission, and made accomplishing that mission next to impossible. His actions left the group without the funds needed to pursue that mission, and it’s unlikely the group will ever recover. It also seems unlikely that nobody else had any idea what was going on, as that is quite a lot of money to just have up and disappear.

President of Ride for Dime Charity Steps Down Amid Allegations


In 2004, the former guitarist and co-founder of the heavy metal band Pantera, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was shot and killed while performing with his band Damageplan. The next year, a nonprofit called Ride for Dime was created in his honor, which raises money for other music-related charities and nonprofits.

Ride for Dime has been in the news recently after the president of that organization stepped down over allegations that he stole from the charity to fund his own “rock star” lifestyle. Rob Eichelberger was accused by a former friend of trading memorabilia for drugs and using stolen money to support himself. Eichelberger claims that he did not steal from the charity, though he did use Ride for Dime funds to reimburse himself for spending his own money on events. He never claimed those expenses on the charity’s tax forms, however. He claims that his recent purchases of cars, motorcycles, and a swimming pool were funded by an inheritance he got from his father.

Dimebag was a much beloved member of the heavy metal community, and it’s sad to see things like this happen to a charity in his honor. Dimebag’s long time girlfriend Rita Haney, who has long been associated with the charity, is taking over as chairperson of the board. Hopefully she can help get things settled and move the organization away from these troubled times. Making sure that the image of Ride for Dime isn’t tarnished too much or for too long has importance beyond that organization itself though. Celebrity charities are not infrequently accused of wrongdoing or simply being a grab for publicity, and these kinds of problems don’t help that. And beyond that, the heavy metal community already has a pretty negative, though unwarranted, image in mainstream culture, so proving that Ride for Dime is a worthwhile cause might help to correct that image.


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