by Jessica Carreras
A recent posting on gay culture blog Queerty has caused quite a stir in the LGBT community – a buzz that directly relates to Ferndale organization Affirmations Community Center.
A post dated Dec. 17 titled “The Five Worst Gay Charities For Your Money” names the local LGBT community center as the second worst non-profit in the nation, encouraging readers to direct their donations elsewhere.
However, several leaders from the Queerty-dubbed worst charities have rebutted, claiming that Charity Navigator is not a good site for rating an organization overall on the charity’s history, effectiveness and local attitude toward the charity.
Others on the list include Gay Men’s Health Crisis of New York, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of New York City and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
“Right now, with the economy really hitting rock bottom and people being really concerned about where their money is going, taking a look specifically at the economic health and financial management of LGBT organizations seemed like something that was worthwhile in doing,” Grant explained of the article, which was published alongside a list of the five “best” LGBT charities.
All information was obtained from the Web site Charity Navigator, which rates charities in all fields based on financial information provided by their tax returns. Though Grant offered the chance for each organization to respond to the article, he did not speak with any organizational leaders before making the post, instead focusing solely online their public financial information from 2007.
Leslie Thompson, CEO of Affirmations, was one of the leaders who wrote back, saying, “The viewpoint posted here on Queerty is based only on the current year and does not look at the historical or current context in which the organization is growing.”
Namely, Thompson noted that in the past, Charity Navigator has given Affirmations overall ratings of three stars, compared to the one star it received for 2007. The drop in ratings, Thompson argued, can be largely attributed to the fact that the year in question is the same one during which Affirmations spent a large amount of its income on moving to its new location in an LEED-certified, brand new building in downtown Ferndale.
“A useful evaluation of our LGBT organizations should consider all the factors that are involved in an organization’s work,” Thompson concluded. “That includes not just the 990 but also monumental successes and dramatic increases in service.”
Grant argued that the purpose of the article was to look at finances alone, without addressing what each organization is doing. “The reason we wanted to highlight them is not to shame them, but to really look – obviously the missions of the five organizations…are all worthwhile missions,” he said. “We weren’t judging it on the criteria of are they doing something good for the community, but rather how well are they managing the resources they’re getting.”
Charity Navigator’s Web site gives several tips for proper usage of the data it provides, including warnings against relying solely on the financial grade it gives each charity.
“We do not recommend using our ratings as the only factor in deciding whether to support a particular organization,” reads a post on the site’s Frequently Asked Questions page. “Givers should also seek our additional information from charities directly and through other private and public sources to evaluation what a charity does and how well they do it.”
They go on to say that while Charity Navigator provides “an important piece” of the information necessary to evaluate a charity, their current lack of any means to evaluating the quality of an organization’s programs limits their abilities in accurate rating beyond the scope of financial matters.
Charity Navigator also suggests questions a donor should ask a non-profit, including information about what they do, their goals and important contributions they’ve made. They also suggest looking at an executive director’s salary in the context of what the person does, how long they’ve been doing it and how large the organization is that they run.
In the case of Affirmations, Thompson has been in charge of the organization for almost a decade, and has almost tripled its fundraising income during that time period. In the past two years, Affirmations has secured its position as the biggest LGBT community center in the state of Michigan, serving over 1,000 visitors a week.
On the basis of numbers, however, Japhy claims that her pay is still too high. “Considering the very risky financial health of Affirmations right now, it seems that her salary is not commensurate with where it should be – especially when you look at the standard for gay organizations,” he said, adding, “Certainly, at the end of the day, the salary of a leader is not indicative of the financial health of an organization.”
Unrelated to the lists provided by Queerty, Charity Navigator provides its own top ten lists, covering charities in all areas and focusing on several aspects of their finances.
Affirmations does not appear on the list of the Top 10 Charities Drowning in Administrative Costs, nor does it appear on the Top 10 Inefficient Fundraisers list – the two areas where Queerty most heavily criticized the organization.
While Affirmations spends $.39 of every dollar fundraised on more fundraising efforts, Charity Navigator’s list of shame names 10 that spend anywhere from $.88 to $3.40. This includes such well-known names as the Association for Firefighters and Paramedics and the Disabled Veterans Association.
Also, while Affirmations was chastised for spending 16.3 percent of their revenue on administrative costs – including Thompson’s salary, some listed on Charity Navigator spend up to 77.5 percent on the same costs.
Thompson called the move by Queerty “irresponsible.”
Queerty editor Grant disagreed. “I think people will make their own choices,” he said of the article. “It is unfortunate that a lot of people assumed that the choices were based on some sort of personal preference. …we’re not saying don’t donate to these charities.”
Grant holds that his article was completely reasonable. “Is it unfortunate that people would use that as their sole criteria for deciding on a charity? Yes,” he said. “But is it unfair? No.”
Thompson noted that the blog’s post has resulted in several phone calls to her office from disgruntled donors who claim that based on Queerty’s report, they won’t be donating to Affirmations.
Grant, however, denies responsibility for the calls, explaining that donors should rely on more than Queerty to make an informed decision. “I think that the thing to remember here is that people are free to make their own choices about these charities and I think any informed consumer who’s spending their dollar should take a strong look at where they’re spending it and not just necessarily believe what a blog says, but really to look into the different factors.
“I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone not to support Affirmations.”For the full report on Queerty’s “Worst Gay Charities,” including links to specific pages of the Charity Navigator Web site, visit http://www.queerty.com/the-five-worst-gay-charities-for-your-dollar-20081217/.