By Lib Campbell
For just 63 cents a day, less than a cup of coffee, you can save all the dogs and cats who are tied to trees in the snow and cold of winter. You can save a runaway teenager who is out under a streetlamp in the cold. You can save the elephants, and the children with cancer and debilitating physical conditions. And for just 63 cents a day, 19 dollars a month, you will receive an adorable blanket or a plush stuffed elephant. We know this because we have seen the television ads since cold weather began. After all, this is the season of giving.
My words sound cynical. And I will say that every problem spoken into the dire situations they name needs to be addressed. Cruelty to animals and teenagers, childhood cancer and all the diseases that cripple and deny life need funding and attention, compassion and care. Marketing plans that tell me 19 dollars a month – just 63 cents a day – will alleviate the pain are simply not true. Especially considering the relatively low amounts of money that go from my gift to those causes that have great need.
I tried to find out how much administrative/operating costs each non-profit charity reports. Other than the Red Cross, there was not a lot of transparency about percentage of giving that goes to the cause our heart strings have been tugged so hard to support.
What I could find out was CEO salaries of some of the TV charities that pull on us. The CEO of ASPCA (picture dogs with icicles on their eyelashes) makes $852,231 in annual salary with another $276,000 in benefits and bonuses. Saint Jude’s CEO makes $1.3 million per year. The CEO of Save the Elephants makes $1,093,349 a year. The top three executives at Covenant House make $334,734, $321, 501, and $294, 536. No chump change. Even non-profit Wake Med CEO makes $1,739,791 and their top doc makes $1,219,496. While I know there is a lot of stress, responsibility, and work to manage big systems, I also know there is stress, responsibility and work in pastoring a church and teaching in a classroom. I think Joel Osteen is the only preacher I know earning millions.
Nobody begrudges people making money. Even John Wesley said, “Make all you can,” however the second half of that axiom is “Give all you can.” No one can judge another person’s heart, but New York Times reporter Peter Coy noted a study by the Center for Philanthropy from Indiana University. Coy reports that in general, people with incomes of $1 million dollars or more give about 3.8 percent to the needs of others while people who make $100,000 to $200,000 give over 12 percent of what they earn to help others through charitable giving.
Another facet of the problem, this one is a little harder to discover, is how much of every dollar I give actually gets to the people or animals that need it. The CEO of the Red Cross makes $737,971 in income, and only 9 cents of every dollar given for those in need gets to them. Contrast that with the Salvation Army that offers similar services as Red Cross. The CEO of the Salvation Army makes $199,651 in salary and 83 cents of every dollar given goes to serve those who come for help. Talk about bang for the buck!
Charitable giving is a very personal thing. We give in response to what has been given us. We give because we are people of compassion who want to help those most in need. We give because we love and want to care for others and for all creation. My takeaway in some of the research I have done is there is something awry in the non-profit sector that creates a One or Two percent at the top of the food chain that tugs the heart strings of the 98 percent to give 19 dollars a month, just 63 cents a day. We need more transparency in the non-profit sector. We need to say out loud that a CEO doesn’t need to earn a gazillion more dollars than the people who work the floors or the phones. Something does not seem right. Whose responsibility is it to make the correction? One piece of advice: when you give, ask questions about how much of your gift is actually spent in client services.
A heart that is filled with love and a life that brims with compassion are an easy target for any who would pull at us for the resources to help others. There is something to examine in high salaries for non-profit CEOs. I want to continue to do my part; I do not want to do their part too.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at [email protected].