Charity choices

It’s not always easy for people to know whether their charitable donations will be well used.

Charitable dollars are precious both to donors and recipients. That’s why people who write the checks or drop some cash in a collection box want to make sure their contributions are directed to organizations that will put them to good use.

A couple of stories in Sunday and Monday’s Journal-World raise questions about some groups that are collecting local charitable dollars. Although we hope the stories don’t discourage giving in general, they may serve as a reminder that donors should try to learn something about the organizations they choose to support.

First, just because a group’s name touts a worthy cause, doesn’t necessarily indicate it offers meaningful support to that cause. A Sunday story focused on a Tonganoxie-based group called the Purple Heart Veterans Foundation that was collecting donations to “support the troops.”

Helping veterans and their families certainly is a cause to which many donors would be attracted. However, the Journal-World was able to learn that only 11 cents of every dollar donated to the Purple Heart Veterans Foundation actually made it to veterans or active military personnel. The rest went to overhead costs including a for-profit fundraising company operated by the brother of the foundation’s president.

The foundation’s president said the percentage of money eaten up by overhead would decline as the organization expanded. In fact, he likes the nonprofit business so much that he’s registered another organization called Kids Vs. Cancer Foundation. Veterans and kids with cancer are causes that are hard to resist.

Another cause that touches some people is the plight of American farmers, the focus of a story Monday. The national Farm Aid organization has scheduled an Aug. 13 fundraising concert in Kansas City, Kan. One would expect a large audience from Kansas, but those who donate to this cause should know that only a tiny fraction of the $36 million raised by Farm Aid over the last 25 years has gone to Kansas farmers. Farm Aid officials say that although Kansas has had few direct grants, the organization’s national efforts benefit the state in other ways — and they hope to find new avenues to directly aid Kansas farmers.

Stories like these can be discouraging to potential donors and harmful to nonprofit organizations with low overhead and administrative costs. So what’s a donor to do?

It’s possible to check out charities through tax records or watchdog groups, but most donors probably won’t do that. Another strategy is to give to local organizations that you know and trust or national and international groups with an established reputation.

Charitable donations should come from the heart, but the proliferation of organizations seeking those donations also makes it important that donors use their heads. Don’t quit giving, but try to make sure those precious gifts count.