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Richson: Charity employees are employees too

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | SEPTEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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As the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge inevitably dies down, many participants are left to ponder what exactly the awareness and funds that were raised are poised to do for the cause in the long term. Say what you will about the narcissism of posting a video for “charity,” but as far as I have seen from people who actually have a personal connection to the disease, the awareness seems to have been received positively.

One aspect of this charity-awareness craze that has not been received so positively, however, is charitable organizations’ fund allocation breakdown.

So-called “watch-dog” groups such as CharityWatch and Charity Navigator take on a mission of encouraging donors to be active in their charity selection process, so that they can rest assured that donated money is actually benefitting the cause in some way. The ALS Association, for example, received ratings from Charity Navigator of 87.30 out of 100 for financials and 97 out of 100 for its accountability and transparency.

Charity Navigator also provides a detailed expenses breakdown for charities; ALS Association President and CEO Jane H. Gilbert has a large salary by most Americans’ standards, at $339,475 per year. However, in comparison with the total organization’s expenses, this total is relatively small … 1.60 percent of the expenses are paid to the CEO.

This is the fact that I have witnessed some lash out on through social media. A six-figure salary interjected into a conversation about charitable doings seems to incite anger in people. If a CEO was truly doing her or his job from the heart, some might say, wouldn’t he or she do the same for free?

Anyone who has a job that they love, or holds a personal stake in something, ask yourself that question. When push comes to shove, the people working at charities are furthering their careers, the same as anyone else.

If you still feel that charity CEOs are paid far too much, consider the researchers, most of whom hold prestigious doctoral degrees, particularly in the case of a charity trying to find a cure for a disease, such as ALS. Charities are in direct competition with private testing and research firms to keep these professionals around. Not to mention, some of these young, eager researchers may have lingering student debts. And money talks. Perhaps when your family’s welfare is in question, your attachment to a cause falls second. Unless someone can pay up.

Are there corrupt charities? Absolutely, just as there are corrupt for-profit businesses and corporations. The salary of charity CEOs could stand to be whittled down, but the mere letters “CEO” imply a degree of prestige that aspirants expect to be compensated for.

If watchdog groups find that a rush of donations, such as the ALS Association has experienced, partly goes to increasing the CEO’s already six-figure salary, perhaps then disapproval can be voiced. But for now, accept that transparency doesn’t always mean you’ll agree with what you see.


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