So it’s Christmas Eve and for many C is for charity and C is for consumerism too. As Frank points out giving can be difficult in part because so many charities have become huge operations and one may wonder whether the money is going to the programs or to the administrative overhead. CNNMoney has a recent article about how to evaluate a charity. It suggests that 75% of the budget should go to its mission (what I call program) leaving 25% for administrative and fundraising costs (yes it costs money to ask for money). The article recommends Give.org and CharityNavigator.org as sites to see how a group uses funds.
Forbes has a survey of the top 200 charities by assets and efficiency. (TIP: use the sort by feature, not the article links. The links go to a useless slideshow. The sort by takes on to the charts.) Here is the efficiency list. Now it may be that some charities are not that efficient but still pretty good. Forbes suggests that 90% is quite possible and that under 70% is suspect. Remember it takes money to attract talent and raise money. Looking for charities with high efficiency is great but some programs require more in staffing to achieve goals. So another way to look at a charity is whether they offer some sort of metrics. Unlike private enterprise the return will not be as easily quantified. Still by setting goals, evaluating them, and seeing where program may need to change, many charities are better able to raise money. For it is easier to give money if one has a sense that someone is at the helm and making sure that the program is working. It may not succeed on each goal but it is focused on understanding why. In addition the idea of social entrepreneurship (see also The New Heroes) which focuses on a problem and tries to find solutions on a large scale uses some of this approach.
Now for a little consumerism. Someone I consider a friend of Concurring Opinions, Patrick S. O’Donnell, often shares excellent insights and further reading suggestions. In one such comment
Patrick mentioned several items for those interested in inequality and development. One of the mentioned authors is Paul Farmer. Although reading Farmer’s work is worth the time, one may desire something a little different from policy this time of year. As such I recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It details how Dr. Farmer began and continues his impressive work in changing public health systems. So if you want to spend a little holiday money on yourself and want to read a great story that also reveals the problems and some solutions for a major social issue, get the book. I will warn that a friend told me about it, and I hated him for a bit, because I could not put it down and tend to other tasks until I finished.