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  • Ree Varcoe

Cautiously educate yourself about charities before you give.

Kirsten Browning

Yesterday (Day 3 of my #100helpfuldays campaign), I was short on time but still wanted to stick to my resolution to do something helpful every day, so I opted to donate clothes via one of those convenient Planet Aid donation bins in our neighborhood. What I discovered after some research: Planet Aid sells these clothes for profit, spending only 34% of these proceeds on actual program services to help the needy. Lesson learned: Research via Charity Navigator or CharityWatch before you give.

Continue to charitynavigator.org

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  • Ree Varcoe

    I work for a small charity in New Zealand and we give 100% of donations received to causes and charities we've chosen to help. Those charities sign on the dotted line, saying that they'll use funds as promised and be open to audit within six months of receiving funds or in-kind donations, if necessary. Social Angels doesn't even charge credit card fees in transactions because our parent organisation, a large (in NZ terms) NGO which works with people who have mental illness, created the charity as a way to give back to the communities they support. None of our causes receive government funding and they represent small needs that can dramatically improve life for people. It's great to be part of something so simple and transparent, in a time when people are more skeptical of charities than ever before.

  • Chris Chappelle

    Take a look at Bright Funds...we're trying to make giving towards your favorite causes easy & effective by creating funds of carefully vetted and highly effective nonprofits. Each of our funds are focussed on specific cause areas and consist of amazing nonprofits. ( brightfunds.org/explore )

  • Nora Kayserian

    Although I do agree with you about being cautious with charities. What about for-purpose organizations who are doing good work transparently? They're not necessarily labeled as a charity but use crowdfunding to develop sustainable projects while reporting to their donors every step of the way.

    • Jelena Woehr

      GOOD is a B Corp: http://www.bcorporation.net/

      I think B Corp certification is becoming the proof of choice for social enterprises that aren't a charity, but are fully motivated by a social good purpose.

      Early-stage crowdfunded projects may not be quite at the point where they can get B Corp certification, but even a clear intention to do so can help differentiate them from the "vaporware" projects becoming all too common in crowdfunding. (A great idea that gets a lot of funding, but never materializes because the product actually isn't feasible yet = vaporware.)

  • Jose Vadi

    This is great - also check out The Center for Investigative Reporting's Charity Tracker! It's part of their 50 Worst Charities investigation in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times and CNN: http://www.tampabay.com/charitychecker/

    • Kirsten Browning

      Awesome, thank you so much for that tip, Jose; I didn't even know about CIR's Charity Tracker, and I love CIR.

  • Robert Poor

    My wife and I have a habit of donating a little money to CharityWatch every year -- they are an awesome resource.

    If you are thinking of giving money to any charity, you owe it to yourself to consult CharityWatch first to see how your money will be spent!

    • Kirsten Browning

      Planet Aid probably has done some good, and I'm sure there are people out there who are not bothered by what I found. In my case, my central concern was the deception that I felt deliberately confused me into thinking my clothes would go directly to local families (or at least that the majority of the profits would go to benefitting them). As that was not the case, I felt deceived and unhappy. When it comes to choosing charities, we all have to decide for ourselves what we are and are not willing to accept. After all, it's our money and our belongings that we're donating. In my case, I'm not okay with how my donations were being used by Planet Aid, but that's my choice, and I leave it up to other donors' discretion whether they feel differently!

    • Wade Larsen

      Planet Aid seems to have numerous shills trying to flood the internet with positive tidings about the company and associated groups. This is done in a desperate attempt to conceal the storm of media criticism Planet Aid has drawn for years.

      As for merehd’s links showing overseas “humanitarian projects” that Planet Aid claims to support, there are indications that these are all bogus. According to the watchdog website Tvind Alert, Planet Aid is one of several “supposed ‘charities’ … all run as a coordinated financial scam by a cult called ‘the Tvind Teachers Group’, through offshore companies in the Cayman Islands, Jersey, Belize, Delaware and Switzerland.”

      Tvind Alert’s overview of this racket: http://tvindalert.com/overview-of-tvind-%20teachers-group/

      Sorry for all the links, but just look at what has been said in the press about Planet Aid and its affiliates:

      * “Charity watchdog accuses Planet Aid of misleading its donors” ― CBS LA, 2011: http://tinyurl.com/pk4smot

      * “My employment with Planet Aid” ― Michael Lehr, 2008 http://www.humana-alert.org.uk/planetaid.htm

      * “Questions in Williamstown” ― Berkshire Eagle, Mass.; 2007 http://tinyurl.com/pz9m2ok

      * “Behind the Green Box” ― CBS San Francisco; 2006: http://tinyurl.com/qezmk3h

      * “Humanitarian work turns into servitude” ― Chicago Tribune; 2004 http://tinyurl.com/q2z9lrh

      * “Blurred Vision” ― Chicago Tribune, 2004 http://tinyurl.com/k7tu4su

      * “World charity group under investigation” ― National Post, Can.; 2002 http://tinyurl.com/mpyq387

      * “Planet Aid's charity work draws worldwide scrutiny” ― Boston Globe, 2002: http://tinyurl.com/kbonbmd

      * “Zahara Heckscher's story” ― TvindAlert.com; 2000 http://tinyurl.com/nm4qrtl

      * “Mission Control” ― Boston Magazine; 2000: http://tinyurl.com/mf4g74o

  • Wade Larsen

    Thanks, Kirsten. CharityWatch indeed has done a good job of debunking what in my opinion is Planet Aid's self-inflated charity rating. And certainly, 34% is far too low for a charitable spending ratio. But there is good reason to believe that the actual figure may be far lower than even that.

    In 2009, WTTG News in Washington DC examined Planet Aid’s then most recent tax records and noticed many of the overseas charities Planet Aid claims to support have the *same address”. A list of South African charities was shown in example. But the South African Embassy told WTTG those groups are not registered charities.

    WTTG’s investigation found that all of the charities listed in Planet Aid’s most recent tax return are controlled by the same parent organization — a group called International Humana People to People Movement, which, according to its own web-site, also controls Planet Aid. [Humana People to People is not affiliated with the American health insurer called Humana.]

    More disturbingly, Danish prosecutors link Humana People to People and Planet Aid to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of this group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    ● “Kindness into Cash” ― WTTG News, Washington DC; 2009:
    Pt. 1: http://tinyurl.com/nbgax5n Pt. 2: http://tinyurl.com/p4yg4dp

    [More info in the above reports’ description boxes; click ‘Show more’ while on those pages.]

  • Mayer Dahan

    I love this post. It's so relevant to what just happened to me recently. I visited a small orphanage in Mexico and I met children who truly truly needed help. What's special about the non profit I founded, The Dream Builders Project, is that we seek out charities, evaluate them and then take action based on our judgement and research. Nice post!

    • Kirsten Browning

      That's extremely important and admirable work, Mayer. I'm glad you evaluate each group accordingly! I'll be interested to follow The Dream Builders Project more in the future.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    It's interesting how a lot of donation companies do sell clothing to countries abroad. When I was in Ghana, you'd see them dropping off bags of clothing in the ports and shop sellers would buy the clothes to make a profit- but the issue was, they had to buy in bulk- not individually. So, if a shop seller only sold baby clothes, she couldn't filter through what she was going to buy for profit. We think we're recycling when we donate, but a lot of places- Salvation Army included, do drop off clothes they don't sell to ports, causing shop sellers to fight over clothing that is "donated".

    • Wade Larsen

      Alessandra, it's true that Planet Aid and many of its competitors ship much of the clothing they collect overseas to be sold — not given — to Africans and other foreigners. Critics say the flood of cheap American apparel into Africa has devastated that continent’s native textile industries.

      Ever wonder what happens to all those American clothes overseas once they’re completely worn out — even by the standards of Africa’s poorest? Reports by the United Nations and Uganda’s Makerere University say solid waste management in many African countries is woefully inadequate or even nonexistent in some places. These reports say that high percentages of urban solid waste don’t reach legal disposal points but rather end up in the environment. Open dumping is the most common waste disposal method in many urban areas.

      One might assume, then, that most old clothes collected in the USA and later sold in Africa likely won’t be recycled at the end of their useful life, but will be discarded as trash, which at best ends up in an African landfill, or, at worst, in an open pit or wetland.

      Are we, in effect, shipping our solid waste to poor countries that are far less prepared to properly dispose of it?

      ● “Is your old t-shirt hurting African economies?” — CNN, 2013: http://tinyurl.com/kcrg5xk
      ● “Dead White People’s Clothes” — The Root, Washington DC, 2009: http://tinyurl.com/k4s7bjb
      ● “Africa Review Report on Waste Management” — UN Economic Com. for Africa, 2009: http://tinyurl.com/k2alm5k

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Thanks for the sources. Great point you bring up about America's waste management system. We are dumping our waste in places that can't manage their own. It's a huge issue and I'm not sure what the solution is other than figuring out how to recycle our waste more. Love that more fashion companies like H&M are thinking of this.

    • Kirsten Browning

      Thank you for your international insights, Alessandra! We don't always understand where our items are going when we drop them off. When the truth doesn't align with our vision of needy American families getting our once-beloved but no-longer-needed items, it can be a bit of a shock to donors.

    • Sarah

      Hmm, interesting to learn this drop off process. Thanks for the insight!

      • Kirsten Browning

        No problem! Just thought I'd pass it along, so others don't make the same mistake as I.