Charitable Accountability

There is a time in the liturgical calendar, sometime after the close of Advent and the start of Lent, when I perceive a slight uneasiness as I enter church. On a somewhat subconscious level, I find myself panning the worship space looking for the large projector screen which announces the start of the Archdiocese annual appeal for funding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the appeal for money that bothers me, for years my wife and I have been a tithing family and like many we can attest to the blessings that this practice has brought. What bothers me is the change that has occurred in promoting donations to charities. At one time I felt that donating to charities was simple and painless endeavor. Not so any more. With charities in the United States vying for a reported rather static 2% of personal income, many charities have turned to expensive marketing campaigns to entice donations. This of course has led to the bloating of overhead expenses. As we are called to be good stewards of our time, talent and treasure, so too should charities.
So, over the past few years, I find myself much more discriminating about the charities to which I contribute. The first question I ask is how much of the charity’s budget is spent on fund raising expenses (overhead ratio). This data can easily be obtained from annual reports and a target of less than 25% is deemed by most analysts to be acceptable. I, however, prefer a figure of less than 10%.
It’s not so much the dollar amount but what the fund raising expenses consist of that I find important. One instance that illustrates this point vividly is the time when I had to chase down a Fed Ex driver who had just left a notice on my front door of an Urgent/Priority letter that required my signature. After hailing the driver down several blocks from my home, you can imagine my surprise to learn that inside the expensive overnight letter was an urgent appeal from Judy Brown of American Life League informing me that she was running short of funds and needed my help immediately. Needless to say, they did not receive any more contributions from me.
The second question I ask is if the charity is actually doing the things it purports in its solicitations. For example, Catholic Charities of St. Paul & Minneapolis (cctwincities) has embraced the slogan, “Poverty for No One – Opportunity for Everyone”. If one looks into their mission statement, it clearly states, “We respond in three ways – preventing poverty, meeting basic needs in times of crisis, and creating pathways out of poverty.” I wholeheartedly embrace these three actions. However, on the 2016 Catholic Service Appeal Foundation (CSAF) flyer, where Catholic Charities is the recipient of the third highest dollar total, it states its purpose as “Serving those most in need and advocating for justice in the community.” The objection I have is to the so-called ‘advocating for justice’ by using donations to promote political agendas. As an example, in 2012, I took issue with Catholic Charities funds being used to defeat a constitutional amendment which would have required Minnesota voters to possess a valid form of identification to help curtail voter fraud. (An amendment I happen to have supported.) After several conversations with Catholic Charities leaders and getting no satisfactory resolution, I have since stopped contributing to Catholic Charities of St. Paul & Minneapolis.
As we prayerfully discern how to use & share the gifts God has bestowed on us, is it not our duty to scrutinize the charities we are asked to support, even those promoted by the church? If we have questions or concerns, is it not more important to get them answered to our satisfaction then just thoughtlessly contribute?

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