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Do These 5 Controversial Charities Deserve Your Donation?

Updated on November 11, 2018
Ria Fritz profile image

Ria is a young millennial from the U.S. Midwest who's passionate about economic and social justice issues.



In early 2018, news broke that multiple Oxfam employees were accused of hiring prostitutes, sexually harassing colleagues, and covering up the transgressions of other employees. The organization's ethics came under fire, of course, and the UK government has threatened to suspend funding. Oxfam's chief executive stepped down in May, but there has yet to be any systematic overhaul of the organization's oversight practices. Haiti has since banned Oxfam GB from doing charitable work inside the country.

Save the Children, Christian Aid, and even the Red Cross also have had some instances of sexual abuse reported, but these seem to be less systemic and not as blatantly covered-up by the organization's leaders. However, there is a culture of sexual misconduct among many Western charities doing work in impoverished countries. Would-be donors should look carefully into an organization's accountability practices before donating.

Feed the Children

Feed the Children was plagued with scandals for decades thanks to its founder and former president, Larry Jones. In 1999, the charity's employees were accused of stealing donated goods for themselves, and Jones continuously approved dubious uses of funds that benefited his family members. Despite all this, the board of FC didn't fire Jones until 2009.

The charity has been slow to improve, and its rating at CharityWatch didn't rise above a D before 2017. If you want more gory details of the saga, CharityWatch has a bunch of articles from the past fifteen years.

Kids Wish Network

In 2013, Kids Wish Network made headlines for reportedly only spending 3% of its revenue on charitable program expenses. The organization was spending huge percentages of its income on administration and fundraising costs, causing it to be named "The Worst Charity in America" by the Center for Investigate Reporting. At the same time, there was controversy around the firing of an employee who claimed to be a whistleblower.

According to its 2017 filings, the charity is now spending 19.7% on program expenses, but that still vastly pales in comparison to the 65% threshold that most industry analysts look for. Since there hasn't been any massive overhaul of Kids Wish Network's leadership, donors are clearly better off sending their dollars elsewhere.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is easy to recognize and give to, as its volunteers make themselves visible (and audible) outside businesses during the holiday season. However, the charity's attitude toward LGBT individuals makes the choice to donate a difficult one. The company has consistently fought against providing benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, and there have been reported instances of the charity discriminating against gay and transgender clients.

While the Salvation Army has toned down their anti-LGBT rhetoric and practice in recent years, they only did so in response to public pressure. There is also no way to know how well the charity's relatively new nondiscrimination clauses are being enforced.

The American Red Cross

While the American Red Cross has done incredible work around the world, there are still many unanswered questions about the organization's work in Haiti. In 2015, investigative reporters found that despite receiving some $500 million in donations, the Red Cross had only built 6 permanent homes in Haiti after the devastating 2010 quake. What transpired next was a back-and-forth between numerous news outlets and the Red Cross, with the Red Cross reportedly refusing to turn over requested documents.

In the end, the Red Cross' woefully inadequate responses to inquiries raised more questions than answers. The organization reportedly sent large grants to affiliated organizations, then took out multi-million dollar sums for itself in order to "monitor" how each grant was spent.

Some three years later, there are still no meaningful updates on the Red Cross' activities in Haiti - suggesting a massive mismanagement problem and a cover-up. It's one thing if an organization as large as the Red Cross has a few bad apples that need firing. It's another thing entirely if the organization refuses to be transparent about what went wrong. Donors may be better off sending funds to smaller local organizations after a crisis, or more renowned organizations like Doctors Without Borders.

Watch Out for Telemarketers

Sometimes large charities use telemarketing firms to fundraise - and these firms often get to keep a large portion of the funds they collect. If someone gives you a call and inspires you to give, hang up the phone and donate directly through a charity's website instead.


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