Wherever there's money to be had legally, someone will show up with plans to exploit that source of money unethically, maybe illegally. This is true in education, government, the automotive industry, and just about any other industry out there-and it's true with charities. Recently, I recounted the despicable actions of charity/political money machine Move America Forward. This charity had taken millions from well-meaning donors to help America's service-people overseas but then siphoned most of that money to Tea Party political action committees and Republican fat cats. Unfortunately, it turns out, Move America Forward is just one of many. According to a joint investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting, more than 8,000 violations have been reported about charities. A thousand of those were deemed serious. But consequences against these charities have been surprisingly light. According to the report: "More than 35 charities and their hired solicitors have been caught breaking the rules multiple times but continue to take money from donors. The most frequent violators have been cited five times or more. One solicitor has been cited 31 times and is still in business." And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Several charities have been chased out of one state only to set up shop in another. States have come down hard on charities but not the individuals running them, leaving them to go on to set up new charities elsewhere. Charity regulators, in general, have been understaffed and overrun with more information than they can analyze and too few staff to go after offenders. Kendall Taggert and Kris Hundley, the authors of the report, wrote with obvious frustration: "Unscrupulous operators collect hundreds of millions of dollars each year while fooling donors. When they get caught, they have little to fear, even if regulators try to shut them down. They simply reopen in another place or under a new name, leaving regulators none the wiser." Needless to say, it's pretty naive to assume that government agencies are going to keep dishonest charities in check. No, with government regulatory agencies falling behind in policing fraudulent charities, it's up to people like you and me to make sure our donations go to tried and true charities. Luckily, there are surefire signs you can look for to keep fraudulent charities from taking your money. Here are seven of them: 1. The charity asks for cash or for you to wire your donation to them. Less-than-reputable charities will ask you to make your donation, not via check but by wire, a method that few businesses or other organizations use now for very good reason. The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) page on charitable giving advises: "Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can't get it back." 2. The charity has been organized specifically for a recent event. Especially with websites so easy to come by and social media such a swift promotional tool, charities for a specific natural disaster or other events can be in your face, asking you for donations, before the event has even finished. Case in point is the recent earthquake in Nepal. Within hours of the first reports, dozens of charities had set up websites and Facebook pages to solicit and process donations. As well-meaning as these types of charities might be, they also come with serious drawbacks. At the very least, these charities are organized so quickly that they're not really able to use your donations effectively, according to the FTC: "Even if they are legitimate, they probably don't have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people." At worst, people throw up these charities intending to profit from the surge of sympathy that usually follows adverse events. If you wish to donate to help people affected by calamities, the best course of action is to seek out tried and true charities like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. 3. The charity doesn't show up on the IRS database or tax-deductible organizations or on the BBB Wise Giving Alliance website. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service keeps a close eye on which organizations can legally accept tax-deductible donations. As you encounter charities, you can see if they show up on this list. If they don't, you probably shouldn't trust them with a donation. You can also do the same thing on the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance website, which tracks charities by state and collects consumer reviews about them. Bottom line: before you donate, make sure the charity is listed on these sites. 4. The charity goes heavy on heart-wrenching appeals but light on what they actually do. Ultimately, your donation is an investment. You want to make sure a charity does as much good with it as possible. Of course, every charity is going give you a passionate speech about why you should donate to their cause. But if that speech doesn't also give you a solid idea of how exactly they're going to use your donation to help that cause, you should be suspicious. Before you donate, don't be afraid to ask them how exactly they use donations, how much goes to the people they're supposed to be helping, and how much goes to executives. If they dodge these questions, donate somewhere else. 5. The charity puts you on the spot. High-pressure sales tactics are never a good thing. They're usually intended to get you to take a decision that you would usually take your time on and make it without proper consideration. Shady charities have been known to come to donors' doorsteps or call them on the phone and employ used car salesman-like tactics to push donors into paying up now. Rael charities will respect your need to research them before you make any kind of donation. 6. The charity is not registered with their state's attorney general. Traditionally, charities must register with their state's attorney general in order to legally operate within their state borders. If you're not sure about a charity, contact your state's attorney general office and see if they check out. If they don't have any record of the charity, do not give them your money. 7. The charity calls you. This seems silly, right? What's wrong with a charity calling you to ask for a donation? What seems like a benign practice is actually a big red flag about where a charity spends their donations, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting: "Cold-calling donors is one of the most expensive ways to raise money. Charities that use paid telemarketers often let the fundraisers keep 80 to 90 cents of every $1 raised. Most of the money you think is going to needy veterans or dying kids is paying telemarketers' overhead and profit." The Smartest Donation is an Informed Donation Before you start thinking that every charity out there is just out to grab your money and run, know that there are literally hundreds of worthy charities out there. These organizations do a ton of good for worthwhile causes. Being informed about the charities that come to you for donations will actually lead you to the best charities, the ones that can do the most good with your money. To find out which charities get the best reviews from consumers like you, visit bestcompany.com's Charities Page.
On the surface, it's hard to tell which charities are legitimate and which ones are just scams. By their very nature, all charities seem to have worthy goals, helping third-world orphans or providing emergency medical services after natural disasters. Unfortunately, we also know that too many charities only use these worthy goals as covers, a means to collect money from unsuspecting donors and put it in the pockets of a few unscrupulous individuals. A recent investigation uncovered more than 8,000 reported violations by charities in 38 states, and that 35 of the charities involved were allowed to stay in business and continue receiving donations even after being reported. Thankfully, even with so many so-called charities misusing donations, the good news is, there are still so many well-run, honest charities out there that deserve your donations. One such charity is emergency relief organization Direct Relief. According to their website, Direct Relief is on a mission "to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergency situations by mobilizing and providing essential medical resources needed for their care." If you're considering making a charitable donation this year, here are five strong reasons you should consider donating to Direct Relief: 1. Direct Relief comes highly recommended. Few charities get this kind of praise. Any wannabe charity can pull the wool over the eyes of a few donors, but it's hard to fool the biggest experts and watchdogs in the industry. Again and again, Direct Relief has stood out among charities for its effectiveness and dedication to its cause. Charity Navigator, which is widely regarded as the top watchdog in the charity industry, rated Direct Relief as the number-one "Charity Everyone's Heard Of" for having the lowest percentage of funds spent on administrative and fundraising costs. Forbes also recognized Direct Relief as one of the most efficient charities in the U.S. for its 100% fundraising efficiency. Direct Relief has been similarly recognized by Consumers Digest and The Non-Profit Times for its uncommonly high efficiency. So what do all the accolades have to do with your donation? They mean you can rest assured that your donation won't be wasted on lavish fundraisers or executive retreats; they will be used more wisely than at any other charity out there. 2. Direct Relief is absolutely transparent in how they use donations. One of the things this charity does best is keeping donors updated on how their donations are being used. One outstanding example of this is their website's interactive "Aid Map," which lets visitors see which countries Direct Relief has provided services in, how much they've spent in those countries, and how many facilities they have there, and then view specific stories about the work being done there. Their site also features a host of other interactive maps that show visitors where Direct Relief is applying their funds in the form of HIV rapid test kits, U.S. medical clinics, relief for the 2011 Japan earthquake, and more. Aside from being a nifty way to show what Direct Relief is accomplishing, these features and more demonstrate this charity's commitment to not only raising funds, but keeping their donors in the loop about the good generated by their donations. 3. Direct Relief has all the right licenses, memberships, and credentials. If you ask some so-called charities for proof that they are legitimate, they will change the subject. Direct Relief, on the other hand, has gone the extra mile to ensure that it has all the right credentials, licenses, etc. For example, Direct Relief is a member of all the leading charity associations, including NetHope, InterAction, and The Healthcare Distribution Management Association. Just to be a part of these organizations means that Direct Relief has met certain requirements. Direct Relief is also approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt organization. This means that donations to them are officially tax-deductible, and they can prove it. Less reputable charities will try to convince you that they are tax-exempt when they really aren't. In addition, Direct Relief is: Approved by the U.S. Government and the Government of India to provide humanitarian assistance Registered with every U.S. state where such registration is required Compliant with the standards of the Council for Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) Standards for Charitable Solicitations A member of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance This is only a sampling of all the credentials Direct Relief brings to donors, but they send a clear signal that their charity has higher standards and credibility-and that your donations are in good hands with them. 4. Direct Relief is constantly seeking more effective ways to use donations. A number of organizations can ship supplies and personnel to troubled areas, but how many charities can say they're the most innovative in the world? This year, Fast Company ranked Direct Relief among "the world's most innovative nonprofits" for its response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa: "Direct Relief, answering a request from the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, used an interactive mapping system to show where the Ebola cases were, where the clinics were, and where Direct Relief had sent protective gear... the mapping and data collection allowed the group to track the spread of the disease and identify where help was needed." Direct Relief was also recognized recently for its ongoing partnership with FedEx to get supplies to people in crisis faster: "In the U.S. alone, more than 10 million people have received over $400 million in needed medications - all delivered by FedEx. In November 2013, FedEx provided Direct Relief an emergency airlift of medical supplies to care for 250,000 people affected by the typhoon in the Philippines." Direct Relief is known for taking an innovative approach to the challenges they face. To us, that translates to a promise that they will always find better ways to stretch your donation to accomplish more good. A Relief from Shady Charities In a world filled with too many fraudulent charities, Direct Relief is an organization where donors can place their trust. Of course, they are one of a solid list of charities that are highly rated by bestcompany.com. By looking for signs like reputation, licenses, and memberships, you can identify those trustworthy charities and ignore those that aren't. To read bestcompany.com's full report on Direct Relief, click here.
Any organization can lose its way and find itself embroiled in corruption and scandal-even charities. As mentioned in my recent post "7 Signs You Shouldn't Trust a Charity With Your Donation," too many charities fall into dark paths. Some start out with the intent to scam people out of their money tax-free. Others see charitable status as a means to fund their favorite political causes. Every year, some charities get caught-or are suspected of-doing something wrong and incur the wrath of the public and the media. The year 2015, so far, has been no exception. And, out of all the charities that have found themselves in the bitter spotlight of scandal and shame, none have been quite as controversial as these five charities: 1. The Clinton Foundation It all started when former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her presidential run. Political opponents began looking for weak points, and they found the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit foundation originally founded by former president Bill Clinton but which became a family affair (no pun intended) between Bill, Hillary, and their daughter Chelsea. For intents and purposes, this charity had flown under the radar for more than a decade until fellow presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina attacked its finances during a Fox News interview. The Clinton Foundation only doles out six percent of its expenses for actually helping people. In reality, the charity, which makes around $150 million a year in revenue, spends six percent of their budget on grants alone. They spend as much as 89% of their budget on performing their services on the ground all over the world. Needless to say, whether intentionally or unintentionally (I tend to believe the former), Fiorina had misused the numbers. But it was enough to start a media furor that didn't stop there. Clinton's presidential campaign has been plagued by charges of conflict of interest. Perhaps the most famous story involves George Stephanopoulos himself, who, during one of his on-air interviews, grilled a Clinton critic but did not let his audience know that he had donated heavily to and participated in the foundation. A similar story regarding the New York Times was reported by Alana Goodman of the Washington Free Beacon: "A little-known private foundation controlled by Bill and Hillary Clinton donated $100,000 to theNew York Times' charitable fund in 2008, the same year the newspaper's editorial page endorsed Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, according to tax documents reviewed." These reports have been more than enough to cast doubt in the minds of voters and keep Clinton's charity woes in headlines. Clinton, on the other, remains publicly optimistic: "I have no plans to say or do anything about the Clinton foundation other than to say how proud I am of it. I think for the good of the world its work should continue." 2. American Cancer Society The American Cancer Society (ACS) is huge, especially since they recently consolidated all of their different organization into one mega-charity. Unfortunately, with this kind of size also comes some shady dealings. Earlier this year, Charity Watchdog revealed that outgoing ACS executives were receiving Fortune 50-sized retirement packages: "The total compensation packages for all six of the retiring ACS executives in 2013 is over $7.1 million (including the value of base compensation, supplemental employee retirement benefits, severance, deferred qualified retirement benefits, and non-taxable benefits), for an average of nearly $1.2 million per executive, according to the ACS 2013 tax filing." According to a 2013 audit, from 2014 50 2018, ACS will be forking out $232.7 million in retirement and post-retirement benefits. If this much money is going to keep their executives comfortable, how much money is going to keep the current executives happy? And then how much actually makes it to people in need? According to Charity Navigator, ACS brings in almost a billion dollars in revenue every year. Sixty percent of their expenses go to programs to help cancer-sufferers, a tad below the industry average of 65%. The average executive salary is in the $800K to $1.6 million range. So a organization with this much money can stuff their executive's wallets. The question is, as a charitable organization, should they? 3. Cancer Fund of America The aforementioned charities have been merely questionable. The Cancer Fund of America and its affiliate charities are just plain despicable. Starting in 1978, James Reynolds Sr. opened the charity and began raising funds supposedly to help cancer-sufferers. Unfortunately, the only people he was actually helping were himself, his family, and friends. One New York Times report on the case said: "In soliciting donations, the charities said they spent 100 percent of proceeds on services like hospice care, transporting patients to and from chemotherapy sessions and buying pain medication for children... [In truth] the charities spent less than 3 percent of donations on cancer patients." Knowing where the money actually went just makes it more sickening: "There were subscriptions to dating websites, meals at Hooters, and purchases at Victoria's Secret - not to mention jet ski joy rides and couples' cruises to the Caribbean... putting money toward personal expenses like carwashes and college tuition, from 2008 to 2012." This story highlights that special breed of charity that never started with any good intentions in mind. From the beginning, it seems, Cancer Fund of America was a scam. 4. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation This charity is controversial less for any kind of misconduct and more for their shocking use of their charitably-funded research. According to a Bloomberg report, the foundation had become involved, through its research, with a Kalydeco, the first drug approved to treat cystic fibrosis. And this is where things got weird: "The CF Foundation had since the late 1990s given drugmaker Vertex, which developed Kalydeco, around $150 million in exchange for something unusual-a share of the royalties for any treatment Vertex's research yielded. Two weeks before the foundation's December meeting, it sold its royalty rights to an investment company. For $3.3 billion." While these types of actions would be typical among private pharmaceutical companies, it was unheard-of for a charity. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's leadership, of course, insists that their windfall will be used to fund the charity's future initiatives. 5. The Jared Foundation Up until this week, the Jared Foundation, started by Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, was a modest charity dedicated to helping kids get healthy through better eating and more activity. Trouble had already begun brewing when, in April of this year, the foundation's executive director was arrested on child pornography charges. The Jared Foundation's shady history wouldn't be thrust into the national spotlight until the morning of July 7, when police and federal agents raided the home of Fogle in connection to the same child porn investigation. At this point, little is known of the reasons behind the raid or what it means for Fogle and his foundation. His lawyer could only say: "Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges and looks forward to its conclusion." Whether Fogle is guilty of a specific crime or not, this dramatic turn in the life of a minor American celebrity is enough to put the charity's future in jeopardy. Which charities are worth your donation? Which ones should you avoid? Visit bestcompany.com's charity reviews to find out!
They stand outside malls and Walmarts, ringing their bells, and staring at you in hopes that you will drop some cash in their signature red kettles. You know them as the Salvation Army, and you know that they are raising money to help the poor. You might even shop at one of their thrift stores, but what else do you really know about this organization which has become a Christmas staple? At Best Company we believe in knowing who you're donating to, so to get you up to speed, here is a brief collection of trivia about the Salvation Army, it's considerable history, and what it stands for: 1. The organization is a lot bigger than you think Sometimes the few volunteers we see outside stores during the holiday season can belie the true size and scope of the Salvation Army. Known as Salvationists, their members number more than 1.5 million, and they aren't just in the U.S. and Europe. The Salvation Army operates in 127 countries across the globe with the mission of bringing salvation to the poor, the destitute, and the hungry by meeting their "physical and spiritual needs. Of course, this doesn't include the thousands of volunteers who work with the Salvation Army but aren't official members of their faith or organization. Taken together, that's a massive force dedicated to doing good in the world. 2. They are a religious organization From its very beginning, the Salvation Army has been a religious organization. Its founder, William Booth, was a Methodist preacher before he left the church's traditional methods to administer to the poor, needy, and wayward on the streets of 1850's London. His tendency to convert prostitutes, gamblers, thieves, and drunks further estranged him from the Methodist church, who had a hard time forgetting his followers' past lives. In time, the Salvation Army became a Christian denomination all its own-one still very near to the tenets of the church it sprang from. For evidence, one need only look to the 11 articles of their faith listed on their website and their mission statement to pursue "the advancement of the Christian religion... of education, the relief of poverty, and other charitable objects beneficial to society or the community of mankind as a whole." 3. They started in a graveyard This large organization has inarguably humble beginnings. When Booth found himself without a church to preach in, he became a travelling preacher, spreading Christianity wherever he could and on the streets. Luckily, in 1865, he was invited to preach in London's East End and provided with a piece of land on which to preach-land which just so happened to be situated in a graveyard. Despite the melancholy surroundings, the graveyard sermons became a big success and the location became the first Salvationists' base of operations, providing an unlikely point of origin for the now-international charity. 4. Their leader goes by the title 'general' The Salvation Army takes the "army" part of their name seriously. Since the beginning, a central idea of their religion has been that when they convert to the faith they become soldiers in an army, fighting against human suffering. The churches are called corps and the pastors are called officers. So, yes, it's true that Salvationists call their executives generals and their mid-level managers lieutenants. Even their organizational structure follows a military pattern. Their highest governing body is known as the High Council of the Salvation Army. 5. Music is a big part of their faith From the beginning, Booth's followers have been known to sing hymns in the streets. This was done to soften hearts and calm mobs who had congregated to attack Salvationists or drive them out of their towns. Although most Salvationists no longer face this kind of danger, they still maintain a strong affinity for music. Of course, one well-known example of this music can be found at many a Salvation Army kettle, whether it be singing or playing a harmonica. But the organization also provides music ministries to teach people how to sing or play instruments as part of choirs, bands, or other performing opportunities. 6. The red kettle was the original crowdfunding tool The Salvation Army itself might be the product of England, but the red kettle actually has its origins on American soil-San Francisco, to be exact. In 1891, one Salvation Army captain, Joseph McFee was struggling with the challenge of feeding the city's burgeoning poor population. He had made a personal commitment to feed 1,000 of them on Christmas Day that year, but how to pay for it? Inspiration eventually came to McFee in the memory of "Simpson's Pot"-a large, iron kettle-at Liverpool, England, in which people would toss coins to help the poor. The story, as told on their website, continues: "The next day Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, 'Keep the Pot Boiling'. He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas." Over the subsequent years, the idea would spread across the country, providing dinners for over 150,000 in 1897 alone. Today, those red kettle donations, used all around the world from Korea to Chile, go to feed more than 4.5 million people every Christmas. 7. They have a secret salute That's right. Like any sorta mysterious organization, the Salvation Army has a salute that members give to each other when they meet. It's described as "raising the right hand above shoulder-height with the index finger pointing upwards." But what does it mean? There is some specific meaning that comes with this salute, according the organization's Wikipedia page: "It signifies recognition of a fellow citizen of heaven, and a pledge to do everything possible to get others to heaven also... it also signifies that the Salvationist wishes to give Glory to God and not themselves." 8. Their thrift stores fund rehab centers Outside of the red kettles during the holidays, chances are you've visited or at least driven by a Salvation Army thrift store. You probably know that you can drop off your old, unwanted stuff or buy old, secondhand stuff there for cheap. But what you might not know is that these thrift stores keep the lights on for the organization's hundreds of adult rehabilitation centers (ARCs). Through the revenue from their thrift stores, the Salvation Army is able to provide free rehab services for alcohol or drug addicts, including a 12-step program, work training, and residential facilities. 9. They help reunite family members As mentioned above, the Salvation Army runs hundreds of thrift stores. They also operate homeless shelters, provide disaster relief, and distribute humanitarian aid to developing nations. But one of their lesser-known programs-the Family Tracing Service-is dedicated to reuniting separated family members. Since 1885, this program has been striving to "restore family relationships where contact has been lost, whether recently or in the distant past." Every year, this programs helps thousands of people reconnect with their families. To see how we rate the Salvation Army compared to other charities, visit our Salvation Army review page today!
There is a migration crisis in Europe. War, poverty, and political/religious oppression have driven millions to seek refuge in European countries like Germany, France, and Hungary. Thousands of refugees have risked, even lost their lives trying to enter Europe via dangerous and unsavory smuggling operations. Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose photo you've likely seen on the news, was one of those unfortunate casualties. Thousands more refugees, including families with small children like Aylan, are currently being processed in prison-like environments, with little access to food, hygiene, and medical care. Several non-profit organizations (including some of the charities reviewed on this site) are working to provide relief for these people. Google has offered a 1:1 donation-matching guarantee on the first $5.5 million donated through its online portal. J. K. Rowling has taken to Twitter, urging her fans to join her in donating: If you can't imagine yourself in one of those boats, you have something missing. They are dying for a life worth living. #refugeeswelcome - J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 3, 2015 After reading all this, at what point did you feel motivated to act, to respond in some way? Why? What if I told you one of the charities was holding a marathon with 100% of the benefits going towards migrant relief? What if I told you that the marathon in question was going to be nationally televised, and that your own mother was participating in that marathon? To be honest, charities, and the countless of displaced individuals they represent, aren't as concerned with why you donate as much as that you donate; however, what drives us to willingly give up some of our own hard-earned dollars has been an intense topic of study for social scientists, economists, and authors alike. The reasons why we donate can reveal some of the building blocks behind human motivation, the answer to the million-dollar question: what drives human behavior? We Donate When We Have to Suffer for It Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive disease that degrades the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS for short, this disease afflicts at least 20,000 Americans at any given time. And no one really cared or knew about it - - until this happened: Thanks @JonBullas. You're up next @KevinAylwin, Jeanette Senerchia and @mattdodson7 #IceBucketChallenge http://t.co/3jKEwvaxA2 - Chris Kennedy (@ckgolfsrq) July 15, 2014 What started as a simple dare between friends, rapidly became one of the most viral and successful fundraising campaigns in history. In the course of a summer, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge raised over $15 million towards ALS research. Countless YouTube videos of college students, children, celebrities, and even politicians sprang up. Everyone dumping water on themselves, and almost everyone donating money for ALS. But why on earth would dumping a bucket of ice water on your head motivate you to donate money to anyone? Wouldn't going through something unpleasant have the opposite effect on your desire to give away money? According to some research, no. In the book "The Science of Giving," author and researcher Chris Olivola and his team studied the effects of discomfort on charitable donations. In one study featured in the book, two groups of people were given $5 per person, then told they would be able to donate any portion of that money toward what amounted to a charity. One group, however, was given an additional requirement before they could donate: they had to stick their hands in ice-cold water for a full minute before making their decision. Surprisingly, the control group (who didn't have to stick their hands in the water) gave an average of $3, while the experimental group gave an average of $4. Something about suffering changes our willingness to share. Maybe for some, it lends perspective, allowing them to empathize in some small, superficial way to the people their dollars are helping. Maybe it creates a contrast of pain - after experiencing something physically unpleasant, donating a few dollars is considerably less painful. Regardless of the mechanics, when we are invited to undergo some kind of discomfort before we can donate, something in our brain's arousal center fires, and we quickly become a lot more willing. We Donate When We Know the Individual For several people, the European Migration Crisis had little weight until this picture surfaced: Charlie Hebdo criticised for Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi's cartoon http://t.co/VX5Fwj960A pic.twitter.com/TwQufrVkG8 - NDTV (@ndtv) September 15, 2015 In the arms of a Turkish soldier is Aylan Kurdi, the child mentioned at the beginning of this post. His family was fleeing Syria by boat, but by the time the boat had reached the Greek island of Kos, it had sunk, killing 12 refugees, including Aylan. Aylan's body had washed ashore on a beach in the Turkish town of Bodrum. This photo has engendered all sorts of reactions on social media, from government criticism, to mass demonstrations like this one: Moroccans people pay tribute to Aylan Kurdi at beached around the world. http://t.co/TObXjPcizvpic.twitter.com/[email protected] - TAHER (@SaleemTaher) September 8, 2015 In terms of harsh, objective statistics, Aylan is just one small casualty in a crisis that affects millions, yet, the human face he has brought to the issue has had more impact on the relief effort than any statistic the media has projected thus far. Why? Because when we feel like we know just one afflicted individual, we feel a greater need to help. Think about it, if your wife, sister, or mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you would start wearing a lot more pink. If you know someone suffering from something terrible like childhood leukemia and the accompanying chemotherapy, you would shave your head and look into donating to St. Jude's. As awful as it may sound, the sheer number of people whose lives have been drastically changed or cut short has little effect when compared with getting to know the story of one individual. Need proof? Within 24 hours of the Aylan Kurdi photos making their way to the public, regular, otherwise uninterested people donated over $275,000 to a single relief group dedicated to rescuing migrants stranded at sea. Whether it's somebody that we know personally or someone whose story we've internalized, something about that one-to-one relationship is crucial to us as humans. Even when an individual directly asks us to donate, we have the need to say yes. Have you ever been at a checkout stand at the grocery store, and the employee will ask if you'd like to donate a small amount to some charity? If you're like most people, you hesitate before saying no, or you awkwardly say "yes." Some researchers believe this comes from a subconscious desire to ward off fate - that if we say "no," we are somehow increasingly our likelihood of developing the alluded-to affliction, or by saying "yes" we are accumulating good karma. In either case, the direct question makes us feel accountable to one person, and therefore more motivated to act. We Donate When Someone Else Has Donated At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that famed author J. K. Rowling had not only donated to the European Migration Crisis relief, but had also encouraged her Twitter followers to do the same. How effective do you think her advocacy for the refugees would be if she hadn't donated, and that fact became known? Now, before you start lighting your torches, let me assure you that Rowling has indeed donated and continues to be one of the most outspoken advocates for refugee relief. But think about your reaction when you considered that she hadn't donated? Well, just as we're less likely to donate if nobody we know or nobody we care about has, we're more likely to donate when we know someone else has. This concept gets at the idea behind why celebrity endorsements are one of the most convincing marketing tactics used today. We know, deep down, that most celebrities are probably being paid for their endorsement, however there's no denying the influence celebrities have on our culture. Take the following story from recent news as an example: Earlier this week, NBA star James Harden was photographed wearing a pair of Air Jordans. Why did this make the news? Because last month, Harden, who had previously been a spokesman for Nike (maker of the Air Jordan tennis shoe), signed a $200 million contract to represent Adidas, one of Nike's top competitors. So you see the conflict here: a public figure who has publicly declared his support for a widely recognized brand was caught in a candid moment representing that brand's chief rival: James Harden is only allowed to wear Air Jordans for two more weeks: http://t.co/UQqsmQ04OT pic.twitter.com/Dwp6rBLLRm - SoleCollector.com (@SoleCollector) September 16, 2015 Did this mistake have any effect? Perhaps not. But when you look at the daily stock projections of the two companies during the day the photo surfaced (September 14, 2015), and the days following, you'll notice a slight difference between the two: Nike As the news about James Harden's choice of footwear unfolded, Nike saw a somewhat uninterrupted increase in stock, which peaked midday of September 15th. Adidas Meanwhile, Adidas saw a different result for September 15th, a noticeable drop immediately following the James Harden news, which was then righted on September 16th with the news that Harden would be required to wear Adidas whenever he is in public. Now, this isn't to suggest that one person's contract faux pas can account for any significant change in the success of two multi-billion-dollar companies. But let's be honest: if you're a huge James Harden fan, aren't you more inclined to buy Nike instead of Adidas? When people we know, or people who influence us (like celebrities) are donating to a cause, we are so much more likely to do so. It's the geometric law of transitivity: I trust James Harden. James Harden trusts Nike. I trust Nike. Not to say that buying a Nike shoe is equivalent to donating to charity, but the principle is the same. The same holds true when it comes to people that we actually know, or people in our immediate vicinity. Remember, the "challenge" portion of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge? It normally comes from someone you know. And many times, you may not even care about the charity in question as much as the person advocating it. You can't tell me your parents bought all those chocolate bars so your band could go to band camp because they loved the candy bars. We Donate When It's Publicized Economists and social scientists always talk about the seemingly contrasting values of virtue and self-interest. "Virtue" meaning altruism (giving something for nothing), and self-interest meaning giving something to get something. These values are also known as public and private benefit respectively. When it comes to donating to charity, which value wins out? On the surface, it's public benefit, altruism; you're literally giving your money with no expectation of compensation. But is that really true? Going back to our example of the #ALSIceBucketChallenge, is there any benefit for the person who dumps a bucket of ice water on himself? On the outermost level, it's an opportunity to literally show off to our friends. Despite our best intentions, the genius behind the challenge is the chance to show everyone just how tough, crazy, wimpy, creative, whatever you are. Yes, we get the warm, fuzzy feeling that we are contributing to a righteous cause, but the #ALSIceBucketChallenge wouldn't have been nearly as successful were it not for its strong social media component. And while you and I probably looked at it as an opportunity to get a few more hits on YouTube and to publicly call out our friends, public figures saw a huge goodwill opportunity. Think of one of your favorite celebrity ice bucket moments. Was it Bill Gates? LeBron James? Don't get me wrong: both men are major humanitarian advocates, from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to James's recent scholarship program at the University of Akron. But had the #ALSIceBucketChallenge not been a publicized exercise, the likelihood of their donating to ALS might easily have been affected (though, at this point, who's to say?). RT @Makerspaces_com: @BillGates shows how he made the setup for his Ice Bucket Challenge. http://t.co/yBdkhknXEX pic.twitter.com/xJT9Nv9SxR - Innovation Factory (@chicagoIF) August 20, 2015 Remember the LiveStrong movement? Those cheaply made yellow rubber bracelets? Before the imminent collapse of Lance Armstrong's empire of influence, wearing a LiveStrong bracelet was nothing short of a status symbol. So, knowing what you know now, how do you proceed? Do these findings suggest that you will only donate if you get recognition for it? Absolutely not. But they do suggest that the recognition helps. And while you obviously still have the ability to make these decisions yourself, without being directly influenced or asked by a celebrity or someone you know, those interactions do at least get you thinking about donating. In fact, reading this post has probably got you thinking about donating; I can assure that writing it certainly has for me. Sure, you may not need to know the tragic story of one person to know that the European Migration Crisis is a messy and upsetting ordeal to want to donate to its relief, but some images are hard to forget. My advice? If you do want to donate, take a close, close look at the charity or non-profit you're sending your money to. One of the most tragic stories to unfold out of any national or international disaster is when good honest people who want to help are duped by false charities who are looking to profit from others' misfortunes. Perhaps, the various reasons why we donate don't really even matter - any time you donate to a worthy cause is a good time to do so. The actual motivational factors behind why we donate are far more complex than the reasons laid out in this post, but they could explain why you still probably haven't donated to your public radio station.