Salvation Army red kettle
In many cases, our donations do less than advertised for the cause we support. Is your favorite charity misleading you?

'Tis the season for giving. You've probably spotted the Salvation Army bell ringers next to their red donation pots. Maybe a flier or two have come in a the mail asking for a contribution. You may even have a loved one that has asked that you make a donation to their favorite cause in lieu of buying them a present. Giving money to charitable organizations makes us feel good about ourselves, but is it always a good thing to donate? Can giving to charity actually be a waste?

It's no secret that some charities are better than others, but we should be aware that in many cases, our gifts do less for the cause than we might think. Every charity needs funds to run the organization, but sometimes CEOs at the top are doing more to line their pockets than they are to help those in need. Other groups might do some real good for people, but exaggerate or misrepresent information when marketing their causes to reel in more money.

Here are some important things to consider when making a charitable donation.

Giving to charity Operating Costs

Running a charity is a tough gig. Many donors assume that charity leaders work for free or for minimal pay, but CEOs of charities must be compensated for all their efforts. They are typically running multi-million dollar operations that endeavor to help change the world -- that takes a lot of talent!

Some organizations go too far, however. No matter how big the charity, a compensation package totaling over $1 million should raise a red flag. For example, back in 2012 it was revealed that the CEO of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had a compensation package of about $2.5 million -- far above the industry norm. For a charity that awards grants to educational and cultural institutions, one wonders how much good could have been done had the CEO's ridiculous compensation package been curtailed.

Some organizations put too much of an emphasis on fundraising, and not enough on really working to help people. For example, they'll pay people to carry clipboards and hassle you on your way into a grocery store instead of spending that money on tangible services.

In 2014, the Cancer Fund of America spent an astounding $80.4 million on fundraising out of the $98 million it took in from those efforts. Taking into account other overhead costs, in the end less than 1% of the money raised was actually used to help people.

Susan G. Komen Foundation

One of the highest profile charities in America is the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which raises money for breast cancer under the banner of their famous pink ribbon symbol. But a huge portion of donations simply get recycled back into the organization to pay for things like marketing, advertisement, and other overhead costs -- with a relatively small percentage actually going to breast cancer research. In fact, entire films have been made about the dark side of this particular foundation. Here's a trailer:

Salvation Army

Another warning sign for a charity is if they're not upfront about who they do and do not help. The Salvation Army, for example, claims not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. However, former members of the organization admit that's far from the case. As a Christian organization, the Salvation Army still disapproves of same-sex marriage and has in the past refused aid to people who don't fit with their narrow view of morality.

In fact, the group has reportedly told gays, lesbians, and unmarried co-habitating straight couples that they must renounce their lifestyles before they were eligible to receive food or come in out of the cold. They even threatened to close down all their soup kitchens in New York City after a 2004 decision required charities to not discriminate against their employees.

The Bottom Line

The point of all this is that you ought to do some research to see where your money is really going. Some charities are just bad eggs. They suffer from overcompensated CEOs, high fundraising costs, and/or ineffective work in the community. These organizations prey on the fact that we feel good about ourselves when we do something to help others.

Thankfully, resources like Charity Navigator and Consumer Reports can help make sure your money is spent the way you want it to be. It never hurts to do a bit of homework before you give.


  1. Eric k's Avatar Eric k

    there is a sucker born everyday

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      I am my one and only charity, and if it takes scamming them to get invited to those Christmas parties then so be it. I can't help it. I love free food.

  1. Barry's Avatar Barry

    Feel good organizations

    Try to do good,but have to be careful

  1. Barry's Avatar Barry

    Feel good organizations. Have to be careful

  1. Rashid's Avatar Rashid

    One place not mentioned was the CEO of Goodwill. If memory serves correctly, that CEO was the highest paid a few years back. The amount actually donated to charity is why I won't donate or shop there.

    My donations to charity are local. I care for family, friends and neighbors! The money, time and services are not taxed like cherity as they are not reported. Government greed can very easily leave the gift at 66% right off the bat. My donations are private and sometimes the receiver of the gift don't even know where it came from. Good will means to care for one another... Not a business!

    1. John Smithkey lll's Avatar John Smithkey lll

      I agree fully with Rashid! I knew about the shady past of Goodwill. However, I was shocked to read about the Salvation Army in this article. I believe in the old saying that "Charity begins at home"!! Like Rashid, I give to only local charities that I know. At times I do donate to the people to that need help. I feel that the larger the charity, the more likely corruption can be found within a that Charity! Have a blessed evening! John Smithkey III RN BSN

      1. Rick Plymale's Avatar Rick Plymale

        Nearly 30 years ago, when I first moved to Georgia and was waiting for a law enforcement job acceptance, I worked for Orkin Lawn Care (a branch or Orkin Pest Control). I recall that we had numerous accounts to service that were the homes of Salvation Army senior officers. It is apparently an overall perk for those at the top, to have their lawns maintained, fertilized, aerated, and treated for weeds and insects. That was not a cheap service, even back then.

    2. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      Goodwill is one of my favorite stores. I do'nt care what they do with my money. I'm poor and they have a lot of really great deals there. I've got shirts in my closet from there made by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Chaps ( to name a few of many). It might not be good for those of you who want to be known as selfless martyrs. I'm glad I do'nt have such arrogance or false pride. And yes, I do have a subscription to GQ Magazine, and am too ostentatious to settle for wearing what I would find while dumpster diving. The best time to shop at Goodwill for clothes is in the month following Christmas. People sometimes get new clothes for Christmas presents and then die, so their relatives donate them to Goodwill. I'll find out how many of y'all read this tip. I'll be at Goodwill before the place opens every morning for the month after Christmas, until I stock up on new clothes. How many of your bright,cheery faces will I see there?After giving y'all this tip I expect to see a crowd. Don't forget, the early bird gets the worm. Or wait another month and get my old clothes after I donate them back to Goodwill, if you are one of my fans, and just want to wear something that I have worn.

      1. Rick Plymale's Avatar Rick Plymale

        I'm right there with you on that one. We have no fewer than 5 gated communities built around golf courses in our area, and the Goodwill was wise enough to establish a location within a few miles of each one. I've purchased top-of-the-line golf (polo) shirts that have never been worn for under $4. I can replace my entire wardrobe of shirts, for example, for about what it would usually cost for just two of them. My wife is disabled, and I'm retired, as well as a disabled veteran. Our income is limited, so Goodwill is our choice for most clothing purchases.

        What you're reading here about Goodwill is FALSE. This is one of the most transparent non-profits that exists. More than 87% of their revenue goes to community-based services. You can check their record through the BBB and GuideStar, which is a non-profit charity watchdog. They openly publish their audited financial statements on their website and those have been scrutinized by those watchdogs.

        I'm sure most of you know that the Snopes webiste is legitimate and trustworthy. Go there and research this. You'll find the claims of $2.3 million to the CEO and other outrageous claims are nothing but panic rumors.

    3. Minister V's Avatar Minister V

      The other issue about Goodwill is that in their stores, they frequently hire developmentally disabled people. Now this sounds like it would be a good thing and not an issue. But because the hires are disabled and unable to work anywhere else, Goodwill is allowed to pay them below minimum wage - even at levels lower than tipped minimum wage (what restaurant servers make).

    4. Kristin Lyncheski's Avatar Kristin Lyncheski

      Im offering information from a personal experience with good will as well as Salvation Army. After I lost everything from a house fire 3 days after the Christmas holiday, left with nothing but clothes on my back. I received $100 Walmart card from Red Cross with a list of what I could by such as 2 shirts underwear ect... other then that I was given disaster relief forms to take to goodwill and Salvation Army. THIS IS THE PART THAT IS UNBELIEVABLE! I took my forms & all my proof asked for nothing more but a bed for my daughter. I was turned away, confused and in tears by both Salvation Army & goodwill. Not to mention the Goodwill in Naples FL. had a table they were selling for $1,000!!! Was this not donated! Who can afford that if they Truly needed the help: to this day 6 years later the memory of seeing that price tag makes me sick and saddened about there misrepresentation!

  1. Annette's Avatar Annette

    I give to real people in need that are not a 503(c) corporation. Those are the real people who need a helping hand. A true donation should not be a tax right off! Isn’t that the true spirit of giving, not getting something in return for your gift.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      You are getting praise in exchange for your selfless martyrdom right now. If you were really only interested in giving for the sake of selflessly giving, you wouldn't be telling us or anyone else about it. As far as you need to know I won't be giving anything to anyone (except for the masterful verbal advice I give in this blog), but if you ever want to give me a nice gift I live in Galveston,Texas,and am not hard to find.


        Hey Elf! Shut up! Her first name only post is for all intents and purposes anonymous - and she is getting no praise, just a bunch of BS from you. You must really be a miserable human being (and I use the term human, lightly.) God, you are a jagoff!


        PS: Jesus was pretty damn clear about giving to the poor. O ye self righteous one...

  1. James's Avatar James

    That's between God and them. Just like the bum on the side of the road, or the widow. If you give in good faith, your deeds are covered. Not that it alone will get you in to heaven, but it is a good thing to do.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      Who cares about going to Heaven after they die? I only care about what's going on right now. Just make sure you you leave your earthly attachments and possessions behind when you die and go through the light, and you'll end up in a good place ( call it what you will). It's much more natural and nonjudgmental than a lot of people mistakenly think. Most of us Wiccans have been there many times so we know, believe it or not.


        the place can't be all that great if you are there... PS: the Wiccan religion is even stupider than $cientology or Mormonism (Church of Latter Day Saints.) Only the Catholic Church can trace it's lineage directly back to Christ...

  1. Lea Weisenbach's Avatar Lea Weisenbach

    I only give local..It seems to me these foundations are not any different then the church's that just take your money and get rich. Scams..

  1. Rashid's Avatar Rashid

    I agree with you Zea Weis! My mother donated to many tv evangelists for many years. They claim they help the needy when all they do is open new Churches just to receive more tithes and offerings.

    When my mother needed help herself when my father passed some sent her a prayer cloth, anointing oil and passages from the Bible. Others never even responded! Not one would help her paying a bill, food or medications.

    Meanwhile here they are with multi million dollar homes, multiple new vehicles not to mention private jets! We must remember that most of these pastors/evangelists aren't really running a church. Rather they are running a business. A profitable one!

    I myself do free marriages in my county. I do the best I can in making sure that those that can't pay are given the service for free. Why? I believe in marriage rather than living in a sinfull lifestyle. Families who marry are most important. Often, marriages include those who already have children. I prefer to call these family unions and I have a service specifically for them. Both parents sign in agreement to the childrens care and well being. The children also must stand with their parents and have vows of their own. I mention this because children don't have a means to pay.

    I do accept tips but it's far from being required. My tips do go to necessities such as supplies. Excess is ALWAYS given as gifts to the needy. I wish all pastors did this!

    1. Lea Weisenbach's Avatar Lea Weisenbach

      ? Jesus was against the churches of the day because they took from the poor. Have a good Holiday

    2. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      If I send you all my freebies will you send me all of your couples who are willing and able to pay? Taking their money won't bother my conscience at all. It makes us feel good to pay for important things in our lives. It makes us feel responsible and productive. Those are character attributes which we should not be deprived of. We also feel good about accepting gratuities for à job well done.And those of us who do better jobs than others should get paid more.If TV evangelists didn't do a good job of preaching they wouldn't be on TV. Of course some people are self- defeating and hold themselves back in life. That is called a character defect,and character defects are destructive.As long as we are not hurting anyone my God wants us to be happy, and as wealthy as we can be. IThere's nothing wrong with being rich as long as you use your money for constructive purposes. And make sure you let go of it when you die, or you'll find out why it's so hard for a rich man to get into the Summer land (what Christians call Heaven).I don't have a lot of money now (for reasons which I fully understand), but am optimistic. I also haven't been minister long, but can't see why I won't be rich someday, living in a mansion, and on TV.

  1. rabbi jim's Avatar rabbi jim

    Although I am a very charitable person, I do not contribute to established charity functions. Rather, I prefer to buy hungry people nourishing meals at local restaurants. I do this frequently. Also, I will take people in need to walmart for clothing. By giving people cash money, they may buy drugs, alcohol or tobacco with it instead of basic needs. I wish I were a millionaire, so that, I could help many more people in need. It is a wonderful feeling to give. If only the government felt this way. Shalom, and have a wonderful day and holiday season.

    1. Lea Weisenbach's Avatar Lea Weisenbach

      Happy Holiday..namaste


      Shalom friend! My thoughts:- instead of a restaurant - take them to costco... The cost of a single dinner out could instead buy a weeks worth of food or more... 25lbs of rice for under $12, 20lbs of oranges for under $10 as examples....

  1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

    I'm too poor to give other than verbal advice, and as y'all can tell I give plenty of that. I'm not even selfless enough to believe in tithing. And if I have to do more than buy lottery tickets to get rich I'll never make a donation. However, I appreciate all those so called charitable organizations who keep sending me free address labels,calendars, Christmas cards,and pens in hope of me making donations. Like those charities, I too love free stuff. And rabbi Jim, if you ever take me out for a meal ( even if it's kosher) I'll gladly wear a beanie and say I'm Jewish. Shalom!

  1. Josand Agencies's Avatar Josand Agencies

    Everyone wants to start his or her church to exploit the masses. I believe in donating direct to the needy rather than though a pastor who i don't trust. I donate to my rural village through video shows which creates awareness to improve their social lives.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      I could start my own coven, but thirteen of us couldn't be described as masses. And I ca' nt imagine how if a member donated the ritual cakes and wine that it could be described as exploiting anything. You must be talking about Christians for we seek never to harm. Blessed Be!


        Toss the coven into the oven, I say!

  1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

    This blog is really obsessive. Does this mean I have an addictive mind, and should go to meetings. I probably should smoke a joint and get a full nights sleep before I decide. Goodnight.


      On that point, Sir, I agree with you!! Me too! Peace!

  1. Greg's Avatar Greg

    I give donations as materials. I would ask a person who is in need what they are looking for and purchase that for them. I refuse to donate to causes that pay their CEO'S so much money. Example: I saw a man begging for money outside a local convenience store. I asked him what he needed the money for and he told me he was very hungry. I walked inside and bought him a sandwich and a drink. As I waiting in line to pay, I heard another customer telling everyone there is a man outside begging for money, and they should call the police. I purchased the sandwich and drink, then walked outside and gave it to the man. He was very thankful, and walked to a bench and started eating. Before you judge someone else, you have to think what it might feel like to do what they are doing. Someone who needs to beg for money, food, life's necessities must feel they are so low. I give to people who ask, not to the people who pretend to care and keep more for themselves(certain charity organizations)

  1. Mike L's Avatar Mike L

    What verifiable evidence is there that the Salvation Army withholds aid from anyone seeking it? Hint: there isn't any.

    Writing an article about charities that spend too little on charity, and then picking out one that does not fit the mold the writer built, is ample evidence the writer is biased against that one. Is ULC showing true colors? That or is the writing and editing of ULC so sloppy because they just want to stir the pot? Either way, shame on ULC for publishing this one. Shame!

    1. Don Bloss's Avatar Don Bloss

      Thank you, Michael. Any who have gone through a disaster or have been homeless will speak highly of the Salvation Army. My Father,Earthly Father, also a Minister but of a mainstream denomination, loved the Salvation Army. After the Buffalo Creek Disaster, all the “chairities” had representation to help. Many sold blankets and food to the affected. The SA provided tents, blankets, food, clothing and prayer to all who came without question or payment.

    2. drutter59's Avatar drutter59

      Thanks, I am a gay man, and me and my husband both work in Management roles for the Salvation Army. We are openly gay, at work, and at the Church, and we have never been condemned, for it, but we have been promoted numerous times. I also play the piano for the church. I agree, that no one gathered their evidence, just went on old posted propaganda.

  1. Rev Comrade Kershaw's Avatar Rev Comrade Kershaw

    God bless you universal life church. matthew 6:24 you can't serve money and god. Thankyou for having the courage and conviction to do that which is right and speak up about this issue. The salvation army in australia was one of the churches that abused and rejected me as a child and in march 2017 the salvos rejected my ministry at their booth college for preaching their salvation army doctrine, the bible and and the history of the campaign for marriage equality to show why God supports marriage equality. While not all churches in Australia support my CLACCA Universal life church ordained ministry it's good to know in the universal life church we ordained ministers have the freedom of religion to do that which is right to speak up. It's also great news in australia we won the campaign for marriage equality but there are many churches like the salvation army, the anglican church, the roman catholic church and the uniting church that still do not support marriage equality or equality in ordained ministry. I have only got to finish completing my certificate IV in celebrancy and my bachelor of theology in australia and then I will be able to legally register my ULC ordained ministry in australia with the attorney generals department. The attorney general has introduced a new category to register ordained ministries from non recognised churches called religious celebrants where ordained ministers of religion of the universal life church can legally register as ordained ministers and carry out the rites of the church. The only requirement is to complete a bachelor of theology and a certificate IV in celebrancy and two letters of good standing from the universal life church and two referee reports. they do also need a nomination for a minister of religion. is it possible to order the new zealand package to obtain this?

  1. drutter59's Avatar drutter59

    The posting about the Salvation Army is incorrect! I know 1st hand about the Salvation Army, I am a member, an Office Manager for the Corp Community Center, and my Husband is the Maintenance Manager at the same location. Being a gay couple, we have been treated with nothing but respect, and both been promoted numerous times. As far as the "soup kitchen" comment, the original article read that the SA would close 10's of thousands of NY soup kitchens if they had to serve gays. Did you know that there are only like 304 soup kitchens in NY, and the SA only runs about 7 of those. The gay persons that were turned away from a service was because they were being disruptive to other clients, and were HIGH as kites. At our location, we also have the right to refuse those that are causing trouble, or being disruptive. Please research all of this stuff before posting. I play the piano for our Church (The Salvation Army) and I really dislike them being put in this status at Christmas time. We will serve approximately 250 or so families this year, at Christmas with food and toys for the kids, and we have gay couples with kids that we help. We do not make anyone sit through a church service to be helped with food or clothing. The church and the food pantry are kept separate. We do let those coming in for help know about the Church services offered, and the kids programs that we run, but there is never a "must come to church, to receive help" attitude. Yes there are Homophobes in the SA, but there are in every organization. But they are individuals, and not the entire organization.

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