Navigating the world of nonprofit organizations

Big Disaster, Bigger Scams

This past week disaster struck in the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan hit. Haiyan was recorded as one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit in history. It brought with it mass destruction, completely wiping out homes, businesses and land. Early death tolls surpass 4,000 people and are expected to rise, according to The Weather Channel. Thousands have been displaced from their homes and left with no access to food or clean water.

Bodies line the roads as locals begin to dig large graves to place them in. Many still have no idea where their loved ones are…or if they are even still alive.

So, you want to help?

Pictures that show destruction flash across local news channels. Newspapers run front pages filled with photographs of bodies lying in what used to be streets. You have an urge to help these seemingly helpless people as they struggle through destruction that we cannot even begin to imagine. But, how do we know how to help?

It seems everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. Donate to this! Donate by doing this! Even Facebook has added a pop up to its newsfeed asking users to donate when they login.

Can we trust that our donations are going to where they’re needed most?

How do I know what to watch out for?

A recent report from Fox 8 News in Cleveland, warned viewers of scams that say donations are going to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

The Attorney General Mike DeWine told donors to be watch out for high-pressure situations. If someone is pressuring you to donate right that second, take a step back. Go home and do some research first. Some scammers will pressure donors until they feel they have no way out except by donating.

DeWine also suggested that donors be aware of who they make their checks out to. A check made out to an individual may be going into their bank account, not to the Philippines. Never give any credit card or bank account numbers over-the-phone.

Who do I donate to?

When it comes to disaster relief donations on a large-scale, everyone will try to cash in.

In situations like the typhoon in the Philippines, look to well-known, large, nonprofit organizations to donate through.

The Red Cross is always a safe nonprofit to donate through. Right now, officials say the people of the Philippines need monetary donations the most. Check out my post on the donation breakdown to see how the Red Cross allocates its donations. In addition, the Red Cross has launched tracing services for those who have family members that were affected by the disaster in the Philippines.

Below are some other nonprofits that have set-up relief efforts for the Philippines.
Google set-up a person finder
Habitat for Humanity will use donations to send repair kits to families whose homes were destroyed
Salvation Army is accepting ten dollar donations through text

Donate to the Philippines typhoon relief today, but make sure to do your research before you write a check.


Tell me: How do you judge whether a nonprofit is worthy of your donation?


If You Had One Wish

13,400 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

One in 300 boys will develop some form of the disease before their 20th birthday. One in 333 girls will also develop the disease before they have the chance to celebrate their 20th birthday.

Inspired the little fighters among us who suffer from cancer and other life-threatening childhood diseases, the Make-A-Wish Foundation was formed.

What is it?

The Make-A-Wish Foundation serves as fairy Godmother to children in the United States and some of its other territories, who suffer from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The foundation literally grants the wishes of these children, no matter how big or how small the wish may be.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation acts on their belief that granting the wishes of children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses can be a “game-changer.” Life is made better through granting a wish to a sick child.

How did it start?

In 1980, seven-year-old Chris Greicius was dying of leukemia. Chris’ Mom’s friend’s husband (did you get that?), Tommy Austin, a U.S. Customs Agent, was aware that Chris only had days left to live. He also was aware that Chris had one wish: to be a police officer. Austin was going to grant Chris’ wish, even if that meant he had to rent a helicopter himself.

Austin shared his concerns and plans with Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer Ron Cox. Cox then went on to share the story with Department of Public Safety spokesman Allan Schmidt. The story was shared until it eventually reached the Department of Public Safety Director, Ralph Milstead.

Days later Chris became the one and only Arizona Department of Public Safety honorary officer. The next day, Chris Greicius passed away, holding onto his motorcycle officer’s wings the men had given him.

Where are they now?

What started as granting the wish of one dying child has turned into more than 30 years of wish granting.

In 2012, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted 14,000 wishes to children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. That number breaks down to one wish every 38 minutes. This took the foundations total wishes granted number to 226,000.

To read about some of the wishes granted by Make-A-Wish, check out their blog.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, along with probably the rest of the world, looks forward to a world without childhood cancer and life-threatening illnesses.

Donate to the foundation today to help make the wish of a child in need.

Take my poll and tell me whether you would rather donate to granting a wish for a child with cancer or donate to research?

A Different Kind of Halloween Treat

Way back in August when I found out I was going to start up my own blog, I knew the post I would make for the week of Halloween. You see, Halloween is when the amazing people at the Medina County SPCA introduced me to my most prized possession, my adorable puppy Izzy.



The Mission

So, since I’m the typical “broke college kid” who has too much going on to keep a full-time job, I live at home with my parents. For as long as I remember I begged my parents for a puppy, but living at home meant I needed their approval, which was going to be hard to get…especially from my Dad.

Last Halloween was my time to shine. I “liked” the Medina County SPCA Facebook page a while ago. Who doesn’t want to see cute puppies that need a good home pop up on their newsfeed? Through their page I learned they were holding an adoption event, where you could adopt an animal in exchange for a donation.

I dragged my Mom with me to the Medina County SPCA literally seconds after I saw their post about the event. I WAS getting the puppy I had been dreaming about for years.

The Meeting

My Mom and I walked into the Medina County SPCA and were welcomed by purring kittens at our ankles, licking dogs and of course the wonderful staff. They immediately asked us what we were looking for. I was very specific: puppy, like super tiny, just born kind of puppy. Other qualifications? It had to live up to the memory of our other dog, whom had recently passed.

A volunteer (who’s name I’m sorry I can’t remember) took us to the back and spent some time introducing us to all the dogs they had up for adoption. It was heartwarming to see that while these animals didn’t have forever homes, they were well taken care of and loved by those who took care of them.

However, none of those dogs had what I was looking for and since I could only take one home, I had to be picky! That’s when we were introduced to Mike, we told him what we were looking for and he directed the staff member we were working with to show us the “room at the end of the hallway.”

The One

Inside that room was what I had been searching for, a big bunch of little puppies! Immediately I began picking them up one by one, promising each of them that I would take them home. Then Izzy came crawling up onto my feet and fell asleep there; I knew I had to actually promise to bring her home.

The Adoption

Part of what I liked about the Medina County SPCA is their commitment to the animals they house there. Their mission is “to protect and care for animals in our community from abuse, cruelty, neglect, injury and abandonment.” The adoption process was simple, but ensured the animal went to a good home. They even sent use home with a bag of food to get us through the first couple of weeks.

How Can You Help

I can’t say enough about the wonderful people at the Medina County SPCA. However, since the are an independent nonprofit, separate from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, they need your help.

Donating is easy. Household items that are no longer of use to you are gifts to them. Have some old newspapers? Drop them off. They’ll be used to line cages. Ads and newspapers cost you nothing, but help the Medina County SPCA tremendously.

Old towels, sheets and blankets are of great use to them too. The best way to help out the SPCA though? Adopt one of their many animals and give them a forever home!

Tell Me: Are you more prone to adopt a dog from a shelter or buy one from a breeder?

The Donation Breakdown: Is your money going towards a cause, or a paycheck?

Last week, my family and I were relaxing in our living room watching the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. As usual, and much to my Mom’s dismay, my Dad and I were busily working away on our laptops. That’s when my Dad came across the article that inspired me to write this blog post.

The Reputation

As a junior public relations major I’ve become quite used to the stigma nonprofits carry with them. I love when people ask me what I want to do with my public relations degree, but I love hearing their comments even more when I tell them nonprofit work.

In my own experiences, 90 percent of the people will respond with something along the lines of “I don’t know if I trust those things…” or “So you want to be the one at the top of the company benefitting from all those donations?” I usually roll my eyes and move on, but today I feel like I should address these issues, especially after reading the article I mentioned earlier.

The Situation

According to CNN reporter Aaron Smith, a study by independent nonprofit evaluator Charity Navigator in 2011 found that the top executives of some leading nonprofits earn more than $1 million in yearly salary and bonuses.

The study reported that the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of America made himself $1.85 million in 2011, while the CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art took in a salary of $1.5 million.

These numbers are understandably shocking, especially when donors start to think their donations are going towards million dollar salaries and not charitable work.

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012

The Breakdown

However, only 11 of the 3,929 charities surveyed by Charity Navigator had CEO’s that were paid over a million dollars a year.

To put things into perspective, Charity Navigator made a good point. These CEO’s are in charge of multi-million dollar nonprofits. These nonprofits are changing the world and making major advancements towards a better one.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a heavy load to carry and they should be compensated accordingly.

For those of you who still doubt how a salary for a nonprofit CEO could be so high, let me give you a breakdown.

A link I followed from the original article I mentioned in the beginning of this post led me to this article, which provided an excellent breakdown of a donation to a nonprofit.

This example went through the breakdown of how money was used after a donation to the American Red Cross.

A one-dollar donation is broken down like this, according to the report:
• Four cents towards administrative costs
• Five cents towards more fundraising
• 91 cents towards aid

Now think about this in terms of donations in the thousands and millions of dollars…the money starts to add up.

So while you may think some of the CEO’s are being paid entirely too much, think about the job responsibilities they have and take comfort in knowing that the majority of your donation is going straight to the cause.

Tell Me: How do you feel about the high pay of some nonprofit CEO’s?

Speaking Out for Autism

Everyone meet Bobby, he’s the guy with the big smile in the picture below.  Bobby is deaf and autistic.  


What Is Autism?

According to the Autism Science Foundation, autism is a disorder, which originates in the brain that affects communication and social skills either slightly or severely.  Autism is four times more likely to be found in males than in females.  While there are many different ideas as to what causes autism, researchers are still unsure.  There is not a cure for autism.

What Is A Typical Autistic Person Like? 

When Bobby was born we knew he was different.  Ever hold a baby and notice how they hold eye contact with you? Bobby never did that. And if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed Bobby making eye contact to this day. 

As Bobby grew up we began to notice many more signs of his autism.  He likes to be left alone.  Most of his time is spent in his own world, which can bring about a wide array of emotions.

As with most autistic children, Bobby picked up a hobby, which he mastered.  His hobby? Drawing cars.  I cannot tell you how many little 3-D cars he has created and placed around my house.  He has the same routine every time he comes over, too. 

  • Step One: Ferociously collect all the old drawings and throw them in the trash.
  • Step Two: Look through car magazines and decide which family member will drive which car.
  • Step Three: Draw and construct car.
  • Step Four: Hide 3-D car drawings throughout the house for everyone to find.

Bobby is just one example of a person with autism.  Autism comes in all “shapes and sizes.”  However, Bobby is the reason I came across the organization Autism Speaks and why I want you to donate to it.

What Is Autism Speaks?

Even though it has only been around since February, Autism Speaks has made great strides towards research and awareness of autism.  According to the organization’s website, Bob and Susan Wright founded Autism Speaks with the help of a $25 million dollar donation from their friend, Bernie Marcus.  Bob and Susan Wright are the grandparents of a child with autism.

Since the organization’s start in 2005, it has become the world’s leading autism research and awareness foundation.  The organization’s website says it is dedicated to finding the cause and a cure for autism through research provided by your donations.

Autism Speaks has not only provided support and advocacy to families of people with autism, but has made the world familiar with a disease that would otherwise go unnoticed or undiagnosed. 

What Can You Do?

Autism Speaks makes it easy to help those affected by autism.  If you have time to give, try participating in a walk to support Autism Speaks.  For those who would rather donate money, visit the Autism Speaks website to sign up for a giving plan.  The organization also sells merchandise through its website.

In April, remember to participate in Light It Up Blue day, which kick starts autism awareness month. 

Most importantly, learn the signs of autism and speak out about it! Encourage others to donate today! 

Tell Me: How do you support your favorite nonprofits? Through time, money or your voice?

Does Scandal Scare You Away?

October is my very, very favorite month. For me it means three things: I can FINALLY pull out my boots, pumpkin-flavored everything and a lot of pink.


For the past week I’ve been debating with myself whether or not I should choose to write THIS post, during THIS month. I didn’t want to come off disrespectful towards an organization that has done so much to shed light on breast cancer and has empowered women across the world.

However, as I debated more and more with myself I started thinking about that people want to trust the nonprofit they are donating to or advocating for. I thought I could turn a negative moment for the Susan G. Komen Foundation into a positive one and restore some people’s faith in the organization.

The Background

According to the website, Susan G. Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. During her three-year fight with the disease, Komen continually mentioned that she wanted to aid in the research of breast cancer and make waiting rooms nicer for the people who had to sit in them. Komen’s sister, Nancy Brinker, made a promise to her dying sister that she would continue her fight and share her story.

In 1982, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was born. With it came the development of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a three-day walk to shed light on breast cancer. Since its development, the foundation’s website is said to have raised almost two billion dollars for breast cancer awareness and research. Not to mention, the foundation has successfully turned the month of October pink.

The Scandal

As part of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s promise, it provided funding to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood used the funding to provide cancer screenings to woman who could otherwise not afford to have them.

However, in February of 2012 Planned Parenthood went under fire when the government questioned its use of federally supplied funds to provide abortions. When word spread, the Susan G. Komen Foundation retracted funding to Planned Parenthood immediately according to an article from CBS News.

According to the article, the Susan G. Komen Foundation had previously decided not to provide funding to organizations under government scrutiny. The foundation felt that the Planned Parenthood investigation was grounds to retract funding.

This caused an outrage amongst donors and political leaders alike. The Susan G. Komen Foundation faced a stream of repercussions. Donors were outraged that their money would no longer help woman who could otherwise not afford life-saving screenings. Political leaders thought the foundation should reverse its decision. Planned Parenthood saw an increase in donations since it would no longer receiving funds from the Komen Foundation.

More backlash came when three days later the Komen Foundation apologized and announced it would begin providing funding to Planned Parenthood again.

The Aftermath

The worst part of this scandal? It made an amazing organization look really bad. As a future public relations practitioner, the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s back-and-forth decision made people question the integrity of the organization. Even more, if donations weren’t going to life-saving screenings then what were they going to?

No donor wants to have to question where his or her donations are actually going. Especially when the organization’s founder is getting a raise. This caused a downfall in donations, which obviously affected the Komen Foundation.

The effects of this scandal were felt this year when the Komen Foundation announced it would have to cancel several of the three-day races.

From the standpoint of a public relations major, this was smart. The Susan G. Komen Foundation came clean before the question was even asked. Yes, the economy was bad, which affected funding for the races. And yes, PART of the reason why the races were cancelled was due to their cutoff of funding to Planned Parenthood.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has put the Planned Parenthood scandal behind them and is moving forward with its promise to woman. For those skeptical of donating, I don’t think there’s any need to be. The foundation has changed the world of woman and gave a voice to those who thought they had to fight breast cancer in silence or be ashamed of their diagnosis. So think pink this month and instead of thinking scandal, think of how far we’ve come.


Tell me: Do you feel comfortable donating to the Susan G. Komen Foundation? Or does one mess up by a nonprofit scare you away?

A ‘Bloody’ Good Cause

So it’s time to write my first blog post and claim my new, exciting title as “blogger.” I did have a plan on how I would kick-start the launch of my blog and capture followers by telling you a story about how donations helped save a little girl…but then I threw away that idea.

Instead, in light of recent events, I hope you leave my blog convinced that you need to give to one of my favorite nonprofits, the American Red Cross. I dedicate this post to my grandfather and my boyfriend’s grandmother, who have both recently passed away and who understood the importance of giving blood firsthand.

Why Do I Care?

Let me start by sharing why I think the American Red Cross is such a great nonprofit organization and why I think it’s important to give blood to them. This past summer, my grandpa completed multiple stays in the hospital before passing at the end of August. Each time he took a dreaded trip to the hospital, he needed a blood transfusion. While I’m not sure how many total bags of blood my grandpa received, I know he went through a lot of it.

As I mentioned before, my boyfriend recently lost his grandmother to cancer. During one of our trips to the hospital to visit her, a nurse came in to hang a bag of blood. It was her fourth bag of blood for that day alone. The nurse mentioned how hard it was to find blood sometimes, especially when someone needs a lot of it. Her struggle to even be given approval for her request for a bag of blood left us all feeling like we needed to go give blood right at that moment.

Why Give?

I love the American Red Cross because donating to them is as simple as giving blood. Income has nothing to do with this kind of donation; the poorest of the poor can give. Donations are not measured in dollars, but by a little number on a red card that showcases the pints of blood you have given.

According to the American Red Cross website, one pint of blood can save up to three lives. Think about it, in a short amount of time, without giving away any money, you could save three lives. How good would that make you feel?

Need another reason to give? Every two seconds the American Red Cross says somebody will need a blood transfusion and 5 million patients each year will require blood.

What Should I Do?

Assuming I have convinced you all to give blood, here is what you will need to do. Contact the American Red Cross in your area. They should be able to give you a list of locations in your area where blood drives are held and when.

For those of you who have never given blood before, make sure to prepare yourself the night before and day of.
• Drink A LOT of water
• Go heavy on the greens (your iron levels will thank you)
• Skip the coffee
• Eat before you give
• Eat the sugary snacks provided after, too!


James Michael Sama

Author | Speaker | America's Leading Relationship Blogger

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