By Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko
The world can be saved by a college campus. Just ask a canvasser.
Recent scandals surrounding the Central Asia Institute and Invisible Children concerning misspent funds, though, are enough to have even the most charitable student casting suspicious glances at the canvassers who frequent the campus. Can they — or their organizations — really be trusted?
There’s good news. The non-profit organizations that are most visible on campus — Planned Parenthood, Save the Children and Greenpeace — all pass muster. These organizations spend less than 30 percent of money donated to benefit their cause on administrative and other miscellaneous costs.
Does knowing where the money goes make a difference to the charitable? Would they withhold contributions if more is spent on administrative costs than on the actual program? Ryan Daley, a private banker with Wells Fargo says not so much.
“Most people donate to what’s important to them regardless of the issues surrounding the charity,” Daley said.
Metro senior Mallory Vining didn’t balk at the thought of giving to a charity that spent up to half of its donations on administrative fees, since the charity was getting the money because of the canvassers out asking for donations.
“They have to get paid somehow,” she said.
Charities are expected to maintain a level of transparency, allowing donors to see annual reports and evidence of progress. For students who want to donate and would like to know more about not only how charities operate, but also what choice of organizations they might have, there are a couple of options:
• If the most visible charities are not the preferable choice, Auraria Higher Education Center has a list of organizations that are either associated with the school or use the campus grounds during fundraising, but are not out in plain sight every week.
• All non-profit organizations are required to file a form 990 with the IRS. This form lists all of an organization’s revenues and expenses and is available to the public. Contributors expect openness in the organizations they support, such as posting financial reports on charity websites. Websites like Guidestar.org will offer the 990 to registered users.
• Not everyone is good with a finance report. That’s what makes CharityNavigator.org such a great website. CharityNavigator breaks down the finances into percentages and rates a non-profit charity on how much of a donation actually goes to the people that it’s intended for.
Sometimes charity needs a face to encourage giving. For students who want to give but wish they could see what their donation does, Denver Voice gives contributors the opportunity to see exactly who benefits from a donation.
According to Donavan Cordova, Denver Homeless Voice vendor director, vendors attend an orientation and get their first 10 papers free to sell for donations. When a student puts money into the hands of a vendor, it belongs to that vendor, regardless of how much is given.
“Vendors buy their papers for 50 cents and sell them for a $2 donation,” Cordova said. “Or sometimes they get $5, or sometimes it’s $20. Whatever they get is theirs to keep.”
It is important to understand how organizations work before making a judgment about how they spend money. The Colorado Public Interest Research Group, or CoPIRG, spends 73 percent of their donations on administrative costs. But CoPIRG is a group that researches special interests and their abuses.