It’s that time of year again, when colder weather, impending holidays and the end of the tax year turn good folks’ attention to charitable giving. And when the Grumpy Philanthropist waddles out from under his rock, writes a few checks and complains. As it turns out, this is first in a series.

I was reading Universal Hub and observed a post by the estimable Dr. Kaz in which he pledges to put a box or can of food in the food drive box for East End House each day as he buys his lunch, and encourages us all to do similar. I have issues with coat drives, can drives and the like, but rather than bore the UH folks with them, I posted a simple, “good job” note and added my plug for giving money to East End House since they need that too.  And yes, I did note that unrestricted funds were helpful.

It took no more than 20 minutes for an anonymous commenter to reply with this:

You’re really better off donating food or your time/labor to a local organization.

Unrestricted cash has a way of supporting deadwood at charity organizations rather than their core mission. It’s REALLY IMPORTANT to check what percentage of your donation goes to the core mission. If 90 cents of every dollar are going into ‘administration’ your donations are really creating a cushy job for some cocktail party asshole (whom will brag about their really non-existent do-gooding), or their kids, rather than really helping the needy.

And I thought I had issues.  Well, I’m not going to defend waste (or cocktail party assholes) but I find the attitude that nonprofit organizations should operate on only the barest of budgets and that NPO employees should earn lousy salaries very disappointing.  Caveat donor, but how are you going to get efficiency of operation if you don’t hire the best managers and workers to deliver your charitable services?

I’m happy to report that the comment stream after this generally defended the good work of NPOs and generally supported anybody’s charitable efforts, whatever form they take.

If you are really interested in the details of what a nonprofit organization is doing with your money, you can go right to their tax return, called a form 990.  It’s a tax form so you have to do some wading, but they’re all public info.  I found out for example, that the aforementioned East End House had a $1.8 million budget and exactly one full-time paid employee who earned $100,000 in 2009.  Make of that what you will.

You can also use some NPO rating services, most of which cull their data from the 990 forms and some of which layer on ratings, comparisons, and information from the organizations.  GuideStar and CharityNavigator are two, and I’m sure there are more.

If you’re interested in a very different view on how nonprofit organizations should operate and be managed and evaluated, you can find the source of some of my grumpy ideas in Dan Pallotta’s Uncharitable book and website.

There’s more to grump about before the year is over, but I’ll stop here for a moment and quote the last comment on the original food drive post:

Anyone who can afford it, should try to give time, food, money.

Happy holidays.