When deciding which charities to donate to, many people consider an important factor to be the “efficiency” of these organizations — that is, what percentage of the monies taken in by a given charity goes to funding its mission rather than being eaten up by costs such as fundraising activities, salaries, and other administrative overhead.
The e-mail reproduced above, which began circulating in 2005 and has been re-circulated every year since then around Christmastime, attempts to steer potential donors away from inefficient charities. Unfortunately, much of the information it presents was inaccurate back in 2005, and it has grown only more so in the years since then, resulting in a misleading and outdated view of various charities. We attempt to present accurate and up-to-date information about the named charities below.
The following efficiency information is derived from the Charity Navigator web site, the GuideStar web site and Forbes magazine’s November 2009 special report on the 200 Largest U.S. Charities. Salary information is taken from Schedule J (Compensation Information) of the various charities’ IRS Form 990 filings, an annual reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS which provides information on the filing organization’s mission, programs, and finances. (In the context of this article, the term “efficiency” refers to the percentage of total budget/expenses that each listed organization spends on providing charitable programs and services, while the term “compensation” or “pay” includes salary, one-time payments, and deferred compensation.)
- UNICEF: The e-mail is not specific about which executive is being referred to here, as UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) is a global organization with offices in 190 countries. We’re assuming the reference is to the President and CEO of the United States Fund for UNICEF, Caryl M. Stern. The organization states on its web site that Stern makes $521,820, not $1,200,000. Both Charity Navigator and Forbes rate this organization’s efficiency at 91%, far greater than the 14% claimed in the e-mail cited above. In response to the claim that UNICEF’s CEO receives “a Royal Royce for his exclusive use where ever he goes,” UNICEF told us that “There is no Rolls Royce or company car provided for any staff member at UNICEF or the U.S. Fund, including the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund or UNICEF’s Executive Director.
- American Red Cross: The information presented above is outdated (as of October 2010), as Marsha J. Evans resigned her position as CEO of the American Red Cross in 2005. The current President and CEO of the American Red Cross (since 2008) is Gail J. McGovern, whose total yearly compensation for 2010 was about $1,037,000 (considerably higher than the $651,957 figure mentioned above) and for 2011 was about $561,000. Charity Navigator and Forbes both rate this organization’s efficiency at 92%, much higher than the 39% figure claimed in the e-mail. In a 2012 statement, however, the Red Cross said that McGovern’s base salary “has remained $500,000—without any pay increase—since she joined the American Red Cross in 2008.”
- United Way: The United Way is another charitable organization that operates on both global and local levels. We’re assuming the e-mail references the President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, Brian A. Gallagher, whose last reported total yearly compensation was $1,236,611 (including a base salary of $532,028, which is a bit higher than the $375,000 figure reported above). Charity Navigator rates this organization’s efficiency at 89%, while Forbes rates it at 85%, both much higher than the 51% efficiency claimed in the e-mail.
- World Vision: World Vision is yet another charitable organization with global reach, but the message quoted above specifically references World Vision Canada. Its current president and CEO, Michael Messenger, took over that role in 2015. The group states:
In our annual report to the Canada Revenue Agency, we publicly disclose information about executive compensation. In the interest of greater transparency to our donors, we have gone beyond our legal requirements by disclosing that our president, Michael Messenger, currently earns the top annual base salary of $215,000 plus a combination of taxable and non-taxable benefits. The president’s performance is subject to annual review by our Board of Directors, and his compensation is decided by them.
World Vision Canada’s (self-reported) efficiency is 81%, much higher than the 52% figure claimed above.
- Salvation Army: The information presented above is outdated, as W. Todd Bassett stepped down as National Commander of The Salvation Army in April 2006; the current National Commander of the Salvation Army is David E. Hudson. The Salvation Army is not required to file a Form 990 with the IRS because it is primarily a religious organization, but according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), his predecessor William A. Roberts’ last reported total annual compensation was $126,920, much higher than the $13,000 reported above. Forbes rates this organization’s efficiency at 82%, a fair bit lower than the 93% figure claimed in the e-mail.
- Goodwill: Goodwill Industries International is not a business that takes in donated items and resells them for a profit. It is a not-for-profit organization that provides job training, employment placement services and other community-based programs for people who have disabilities, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges. Goodwill raises money for their programs through a chain of thrift stores which also operate as non-profits.The CEO of Goodwill Industries International is not Mark Curran, nor does he make $2.3 million a year. The current President and CEO of Goodwill is Jim Gibbons, who in 2015 received a total reported compensation of $712,202.
- March of Dimes: Charity Navigator rates the March of Dimes‘ efficiency at 64.6%, a fair bit lower than most of the charities mentioned here, but much higher than the 10% figure claimed in the e-mail example quoted above.
- St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Charity Navigator rates the efficiency of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at 70.3%, considerably lower than the 100% figure claimed of it above.
- Ronald McDonald Houses: Ronald McDonald House charities operate at local levels in dozens of different metropolitan areas in the U.S. with varying levels of efficiency. Charity Navigator rates the efficiency of the parent organization at 89.5%.
- Lions Club International: Charity Navigator rates the efficiency of the Lions Clubs International Foundation at 83.9%.
A 2011 addendum to the original message presented the following information:
The American Legion National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
The Disabled American Veterans National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
The Military Order of Purple Hearts National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
The Vietnam Veterans Association National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
The Wounded Warriors National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
These organizations with no salaries have donations going to help Veterans and their families and youth.
According to the most recent available Form 990 filings, all of these statements are false and/or misleading (in large part because the National Commanders are not necessarily the top business executives of these organizations):
- The two men who served as National Commander of the American Legion during the 2009 tax year (David Rehbein and Clarence Hill) received total aggregate compensation of $103,701. The American Legion’s National Adjutant (Daniel Wheeler), who is described as “the administrative head of the organization,” received $201,661 in total compensation.
- The two men who served as the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Commander-in-Chief during the 2009 tax year (Glen M. Gardner, Jr. and Thomas J. Tradewell, Sr.) received an aggregate total compensation of $329,868.
- In the 2009 tax year, the National Adjutant of Disabled American Veterans (Arthur H. Wilson), who is described as “serving as the DAV’s chief executive officer,” received a total compensation of $328,252.
- The Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) is a separate entity from the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation (MOPHSF), although the former is largely dependent upon the latter to raise funds for its programs. For tax year 2009, the Executive Director of the MOPHSF (Gregory A. Bresser), who left that post in August 2009, received $142,986 in total compensation.
- In tax year 2009, the President of Vietnam Veterans of America (the closest match to the “Vietnam Veterans Association” mentioned in the e-mail), John Rowan, received a total compensation of $69,874. (The highest paid executive was CFO/staff director Joseph Sternburg, who was paid $137,902.)
- For the fiscal year ending September 2013, the Executive Director of the Wounded Warrior Project, Steven Nardizzi, received a total compensation of $375,000.
Unfortunately, the six veterans-related charitable organizations mentioned above don’t receive very high marks for efficiency (as determined by Charity Navigator, the BBB, or Form 990 information):
- American Legion: 55%
- Veterans of Foreign Wars: 84%
- Disabled American Veterans: 77%
- Military Order of Purple Heart Service Foundation: 35%
- Vietnam Veterans of America: 25%
- Wounded Warrior Project: 58%
Updated CEO names and salaries for several of the organizations listed.
- UNICEF USA. "CEO Salary Email."
- American Red Cross. "Red Cross Statement on Inaccurate Viral Email on Charity CEO Pay." 11 December 2012.
- United Way. "CEO Compensation FAQ."
- World Vision Canada. "Our Approach to Executive Compensation."