There are Charities and then there are “Charities”
Posted on April 5, 2016
The Wounded Warrior scandal has given a lot of private service charities a black eye, as it should. Some charities are much better (you really ought to check out any cause at Charity Navigator before you contribute)—but the defensive voices supporting “good” charities have still got it wrong. Private charity is an innately and immensely inefficient and unfair way to deliver services. It is what we do in the US because the right-wing has crippled government services.
Even an excellent charity has a hard time keeping its fund raising and administrative costs under 30% of what you donate. Even a mediocre government service agency has an overhead load of well under 10%. Overhead for the portion of MediCare that doesn’t use private insurance companies is around 1%.
The main cost advantage is that government tax collection is dirt cheap in comparison with private fund raising. Another cost advantage has to do with universal programs that everyone uses, as opposed to specialized programs that have to seek out clients.
At the same time, there is another form of charity can definitely be worth your money—namely charities that do advocacy rather than provide services. Government by its nature can’t do advocacy, since the point of advocacy is to change what government is doing. Also, advocacy groups typically have a cost advantage: much or even most of their work is done by volunteers, so your money goes a lot further. In contrast, there are severe limits on the levels of most services that you can deliver from volunteers—professional services need professional service workers.
FYI, the advocacy groups I currently support and recommend include the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Sierra Club, and Kansas Progress Institute. All of these groups have Kansas wings. All of these groups except the Sierra Club have 501(c)(3) organizations, meaning you can itemize your contribution for an income tax deduction.