Nonprofits hurt by false information circulating on the internet

Local News

Most of us have probably seen one or more of the unsolicited emails and social media posts urging you to choose your nonprofit wisely.

“Think Before You Donate!” the digital documents exclaim.
The messages claim the CEO of United Way makes over a million dollars a year.

And that’s nothing compared to the CEO of Goodwill, who supposedly makes $2.3 million, according to the posts.

 We spoke to a few of these nonprofits on the list, who say, flatly, don’t believe everything you read or hear.

“When I started at United Way 10 years ago, there was this email that would circulate and it was the exact same email every year,” says Jena Gullo, Executive Director of Missouri Valley Areawide United Way.  “Then, when Facebook became popular, it was a post on Facebook!  Every year it drove us crazy.”

“Unfortunately, Goodwill has been the target of that for years,” says Emily Riedman, Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for Easter Seals Goodwill.  “We have been thrown under the bus with what we do and what we make.”

The accusations are nothing new — Gullo notes they actually started in the 1980s, just prior to the email and social media revolutions.
Examples of the misleading missives can be found at popular fact-checking websites like Snopes.com (link to: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/executive-salaries-charities/) and TruthOrFiction.com (link to: https://www.truthorfiction.com/think-before-you-donate-claims-about-charities/).
The messages are the same, alledging very few pennies on the dollar actually go toward helping the cause you donate to:

  • UNICEF only 14 cents, supposedly.
  • March of Dimes, 10 cents.
  • American Red Cross, 8 cents.
  • United Way, just 9 cents on the dollar.

And while the executive director of United Way can’t speak for all the entities, she can speak for hers.

“Each United Way is its own charity. We are our own 501c3.  What that means is we have a local board and the buck stops with them,” says Gullo.

In fact, she says 99 cents on every dollar you donate stays local.

“Only 1 percent goes to United Way World Wide,” Gullo notes. “And in return for that 1 percent, they kick back points to us that we can use for training, they hold us accountable making sure we’re audited every year and make sure that we’re reputable.  They have high expectations of the affiliates.”

Emily Riedman, with Easter Seals Goodwill of North Dakota, says no CEO makes $2.3 million.

“The CEO here doesn’t make that,” says Riedman. “So the fact that this information is out there is very harmful.”

But even Riedman admits, years before working at Good Will, she was a believer in the false narrative.

“There was this huge article that came out in South Dakota, about Goodwill.  I stopped donating,” she acknowledges.

She believes the social media buzz has been a thorn in the organizations’ side, and she says the rumor is affecting their mission.

“People generalize us as this thrift store and we’re overpriced and, really, we have this huge goal to help people become independent, get back into the workforce after they are told that they never will,” Riedman says.

Both Riedman and Gullo say if you do the research, you’ll find that both organizations are an open book.

They are thrifty — with missions that make a difference.

We also reached out to March of Dimes. They also contend the email/Facebook post is just a hoax.

“This is a common Internet myth and has been debunked numerous times. March of Dimes devotes 76 percent of all dollars raised toward research and programs the improve the health of moms and babies,” writes Angie Deegan, March of Dimes Executive Director of Market Development. “March of Dimes has also earned the Platinum GuideStar Nonprofit Profile Seal of Transparency, the highest level of recognition from the charity watchdog agency GuideStar for the second consecutive year. (link to: https://www.guidestar.org/profile/13-1846366).” 

KX News also reached out to the Salvation Army.

In this case, the false messages put the non-profit in a positive light, claiming their CEO only makes $13,000.

However, the Salvation Army has been hurt by social media in other ways.
For example, a recent social media post accused the Salvation Army of refusing to help members of the LGBTQ community.

Major Nelson De La Vergne says it’s nor true, and it’s unfortunate that such falsehoods are spreading.

He says hungry people are hungry people, and the Salvation Army helps them all.

“We serve everyone without discrimination and we believe people are people, human beings that need to be treated properly and that’s what we strive to do is treat them properly,” says De La Vergne.

Again, all the charities we spoke with say all you have to do is call them — they’ll tell you exactly what they do, how they do it, and how many dollars it takes.

They’ll also probably tell you they’re not sure how much any CEO makes, but it definitely is not millions.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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