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December 22nd, 2010 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Flabby Charities

Ten Portland nonprofits that spend more than average on overhead.

     
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’Tis the season for do-gooders in our recession-hit city to reach deep and choose among hundreds of worthy causes to support with their hard-earned dollars.

But not all charities are alike. Some spend more than others on overhead costs, including fundraising and management expenses.

Charity Navigator, a New Jersey-based group that evaluates nonprofits, sets 65 percent as the bare minimum charities should spend on actual charity work—rather than fundraising and administration. Nine out of 10 charities nationwide meet that standard.

“Anybody out of that realm is really underperforming, according to industry standards,” says Matt Viola, a senior program analyst at Charity Navigator.

For discerning donors, the Oregon Department of Justice runs an online database (doj.state.or.us) that tracks spending by all 14,826 nonprofits registered in the state. The database breaks down each nonprofit’s spending for program services, fundraising and management.

With Charity Navigator’s standard in mind, we used the state database to calculate how much Portland-based nonprofits are spending directly on programs. Below is a list of 10 Portland charities that failed to exceed the 65 percent bar, according to the DOJ. (Yes, we include two that are right on the line.)

We applied our test only to charities that bring in more than $500,000 a year—a line Viola recommends because it includes only significant players. And because we’re focusing on charities that want your money, we removed from the list nonprofits that do not solicit donations or perform charitable work.

1. Charity: The Oregon Jewish Museum
Mission Statement: “To preserve history as it relates to the Jewish people.”
Program Spending: 48 percent
What They Said: Museum director Judy Margles says an accountant put the entire $60,000 salary for the director of development and programming under fundraising, when some of that money should have been listed as providing services. “We’re sort of the model of fiscal caution and conservatism,” Margles says.

2. Charity: P:ear
Mission Statement: “Builds positive relationships with homeless and transitional youth through education, arts and recreation.”
Program Spending: 56 percent
What They Said: “The administrative staff of P:ear works directly with kids, [and] we straddle doing all of the administrative work as well,” says Executive Director Beth Burns. P:ear is in this year’s WW Give!Guide.

3. Charity: Boy Scouts of America, Cascade Pacific Council
Mission Statement: “To administer Boy Scouts of America program of character development and citizenship training.”
Program Spending: 56 percent
What They Said: Scouts spokesman Don Cornell did not reply to a phone message seeking comment.

4. Charity: Alzheimer’s Association, Oregon Chapter
Mission Statement: “To eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.”
Program Spending: 59 percent
What They Said: Board president Karen Garst says the nonprofit wrongly listed some expenses, such as the annual Memory Walk, as purely fundraising. “That’s not just fundraising. That’s also public awareness,” Garst says. “We’re incredibly frugal.”

5. Charity: All Classical Public Media
Mission Statement: “Classical Music Public Radio/Community Engagement.” (It operates All Classical 89.9 FM.)
Program Spending: 60 percent
What They Said: “It all depends on interpretation and allocations,” says Sharon Johnson, vice president of marketing and development. She declined to speak further by phone, requesting questions by email. An email sent Dec. 17 received no response.

6. Charity: CASA for Children
Mission Statement: “To intervene on behalf of neglected or abused dependent children.”
Program Spending: 63 percent
What They Said: “I don’t know if that’s true, first of all, and if it is, the person you need to talk to just walked out the door two minutes ago,” said CASA supervisor Letha McCleod. She referred WW to finance director Joni Spencer, who did not return a message from Dec. 17.

7. Charity: BodyVox
Mission Statement: “The creation and performance of dance-based theatrical presentations.”
Program Spending: 63 percent
What They Said: “We just recently completed a capital campaign and moved into a new building. That would explain where some of the expenditures on overhead were,” said general manager Una Loughran. “Most of what we do is program-driven.”

8. Charity: Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon and Southwest Washington
Mission Statement: “To acquire, develop and manage a facility for housing leukemia/oncology and other child patients and their families.”
Program Spending: 63 percent
What They Said: “Rather than rely on a single standard to measure our effectiveness, we constantly evaluate our performance using many different criteria,” Executive Director Tom Soma said by email. “I invite anyone to visit our two Ronald McDonald houses, meet some of the 1,500 families with seriously ill children who stay here each year, and then determine if we’re delivering on our promise.”

9. Charity: Equity Foundation
Mission Statement: “To benefit gay and lesbian people through grants.”
Program Spending: 65 percent
What They Said: “Our focus is very much on being cautious with expenses and focusing on our core mission,” says Executive Director Peter Cunningham. “Fundraising is a huge component of a nonprofit these days.”

10. Charity: Junior Achievement of Oregon and Southwest Washington
Mission Statement: “To educate boys and girls in the basic concepts of Americanism and the American private enterprise system.”
Program Spending: 65 percent
What They Said: “We acknowledge it’s close,” says president John Hancock. “We’re happy to be at the...standard, especially in challenging economic times.”

 
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