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The Hard-earned Money You Donate to Charities- How Much Really Goes Towards Their Actual Mission?

| Sande Caplin |

Part One In A Series of Articles on a Timely and Pertinent Subject:

With the economic crunch in full swing and little relief in sight, we’ve had to reset our priorities as to how much we can still afford to give to our favorite charities.  In the Sarasota County area there are 342 legitimate charities, and that’s just Sarasota.  In Manatee County there are 290+ public charities and probably more since “Charity Navigator” last surveyed the totals.  My friend likes to remind me that Sarasota/Manatee Counties have a charity for every cause, and the lifestyle of being involved, even a little, demands that you dig deep and give donations.

I do believe the right to know how much money goes to staff and expenses should be a part of public record.  Some non-profits have quite a bit of overhead. offers up the idea that if the charity is spending more than 33.3% of their total budget on overhead, that organization is not meeting its mission.

Let’s take a look at 5 popular charities and what their expenses are, and more importantly, where your money is going.

The American Red Cross:  These figures were taken off the website www.Charity and the chosen charities are very popular with donors.  The Red Cross manages to keep administrative expenses at less than 5% of their total overhead.  They spend 92.1% of their income on actual programs that benefit the community.  They have a strong presence in the community offering CPR and other rescue services as well as active involvement in the aftermath of a disaster.  It’s fairly obvious that the American Red Cross puts your dollars to use responsibly.

World Vision: World Vision is a highly popular charity whose donations go to help stamp out poverty around the world.  This charity spends more on fundraising than most, but still does a good job with donations.

Doctors Without Borders: These physicians go into poverty and disease-stricken 3rd World countries to bring the art of healing to those in need of medical services.  About 86 cents on a dollar goes toward furthering their mission.

Invisible Children: This charity has a vision to spread awareness of the abusive use of South African children in forcing them to be soldiers.  They spread awareness through social media venues that promote the knowledge of Joseph Kony, who is at the head of this movement.  80% of all donations to Invisible Children is spent to further its cause.

American Cancer Society:  One of the better-known charities, their mission is to educate and support research studies to improve the lives of those who are fighting cancer.  About 70 cents of each dollar goes towards continued operation of these programs.  22% goes towards supporting administrative expenses, however, the scope and the facilities needed also support this expenditure.  has researched the collective charitable organizations that are well-known for their efficacy in utilizing your donations to the fullest.  These charities have less than 10% overhead, and therefore are spending 90% of your money for actual supplies and services that keep their missions alive.

The following organizations are well-known for utilizing most of your dollars and ones that you can feel safe investing in:
Greater Chicago Food Depository
Oregon Food Bank
The Conservation Fund
Give Kids the World
Save the Children

To fall into the group of Charities that spend their money wisely, at least 66% of all incoming donations should go to support the charity’s cause.  The following charities fall within this guideline, yet they spend a great deal more than other charities on overhead and administrative expenses.  The charities listed below spend between 20 and 30 cents of your money for overhead and salaries:

The Nature Conservatory
World Wildlife Federation
World Vision
Oxfam America
Natural Resources Defense Council

The following charities are known for spending a lot more of your dollars on administrative costs and overhead, using 30% or more of each dollar on fundraising, as well.  Be wise and investigate each charity carefully  before committing money for donations.  Examples of these charities are:

George Bush Presidential Library Foundation
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
The Cable Center
Jewish Guild for the Blind
American Printing House for the Blind

In my next article on how much of your money goes directly to support a charitable mission, I will list some Watchdog Resources you can use to research where the best place will be to donate your hard-earned money.  Most charities must publish their documents for public viewing.  Keep that in mind when researching where you’d like to give your money.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the nation’s consumer protection agency. The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace. The above organizations comply with FTC codes.  Always make sure the agency you donate to has the Federal Trade Commission Emblem and disclaimer.

Watch for Part II of this article next month.

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