Now offering FREE voiceovers for charity and animal rescue organizations. Please spread the word…
When I first saw this message, my reaction was mixed. At first glance, it looked like a noble thing to do. Times are tough for charities, so why not help them a little. The less they have to spend on advertising, the more money is left for the cause. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Yet, another part of me said: “Wait a minute… Being the voice of a charity, that’s a paying job for people like you and me who have to make a living talking into a microphone. If we’d all start giving our services away, we’d undermine our own business. It’s also unfair competition.”
Of course this isn’t something that’s only affecting voice over professionals. If you’re designing websites, why not give one away to the local animal shelter? If you’re running a print shop, why not donate a few thousand brochures to promote the food bank? If you’re a professional musician, why not do a benefit concert for your church?
It’s better to give than to receive, right?
In the past few days, my entrepreneurial side debated my philanthropic side like two candidates running for office. One of the questions my inner moderator came up with was this:
Are all charities created equal and do they need and deserve a break?
To answer that question, let’s start with another one:
What do you think of, when you hear the word Charity or Non-profit? What’s the first image that comes to mind? A small, struggling, idealistic organization run by volunteers on a shoestring budget, or a multimillion dollar, well-oiled machine with sleek media campaigns and celebrity endorsers?
Let’s take a closer look.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy publishes surveys on giving, foundations and executive salaries. Now get this. According to the Chronicle, more than twenty non-profit groups paid their top executive more than $1 million a year in 2010 and 2011(source).
The highest-paid professional in the survey was Herbert Pardes, executive vice-chairman of the New York Presbyterian Hospital board of trustees, who had a 2010 compensation of $4.3 million, including a $1.71 million salary.
American Cancer Society CEO John Seffrin ranked fifth with a 2010 compensation of $2.08 million. This included $1.49 million in deferred compensation and retirement. Boys & Girls Club CEO Roxanne Spillett ranked eighth with a 2011 compensation of $1.81 million.
In spite of a recession, top executives at the largest U.S. charities and foundations received a median pay increase of 3.8 percent to $429,512 in 2011, according to the Chronicle’s survey of 132 of the biggest organizations. One-third of the non-profits in the survey provided bonuses to executives in 2010. The median bonus was slightly over $50,000.
Do you even make $50,000 a year recording voice-overs or running another type of freelance business?
PROFITING FROM NON-PROFITS
Please don’t get me wrong. In order to attract top leaders, nonprofits need to offer top salaries. I’m sure that most of these executives work really hard to advocate the cause they’re representing. Some of them do a much better job than others, though.
Charity Navigator is the nation’s largest evaluator of charities. The organization has examined tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents and uses this knowledge to develop an objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 5,000 of America’s charities.
On its website you’ll find a list of 10 Highly Paid CEOs at Low-Rated Charities. Despite receiving more than $200,000 in annual pay, these CEOs run U.S. organizations that devote less than 60% of their budgets to their programs and services. Number one on the list is the CEO of the American Heart Association, with a salary of $602,529.
Where does all this charity money come from? From frail old ladies writing checks to save puppies from being euthanized? From school kids washing cars for cancer? From volunteers holding up buckets (and traffic) at a busy intersection?
Successful charities increasingly rely on the commercialization of their cause. October is breast cancer awareness month, and I’m sure you’ve seen pink ribbons on practically anything, from cereal boxes to smoothies to shower gel. Companies love to be associated with charities to boost their public image… and their bottom line.
The official name for plastering the world with pink and other charity related paraphernalia, is cause marketing promotion. You’ll often see that a company will donate a certain percentage of the sale to the charity featured on the product. But did you know that charities aren’t required to specifically disclose how much money they generate via cause-related marketing projects?
When asked, Sheila Brown, Director of Development and Special Projects of the Breast Cancer Fund told Charity Navigator that twenty percent of the Fund’s $3.9 million budget comes from business support. According to the same article, forty percent of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation came from cause-related marketing.
MONEY WELL SPENT?
Charity Navigator looked at two dozen of the largest charities working to fight and prevent breast cancer in America. Together, they raised nearly $1.7 billion annually in contributions. The site concluded:
The good news is that several of these charities efficiently utilize donations to pursue their mission of curing and preventing breast cancer. However, others will astound donors with their inefficient operations and low marks for Accountability & Transparency. For example, one charity spends less than 2% of its budget on fundraising expenses, while another spends nearly 98%!
So, let me ask you again:
Are all charities created equal and do they need and deserve a break?
I don’t think so.
Now, I didn’t write this article to bash charitable organizations. Many of them provide important services, but most people don’t realize how large charities have become, and how much funding flows through them each year. According to Charity Navigator, their operations are so big that during 2011, total giving was more than $298 billion.
I know there are quite a few charities that have trouble staying afloat. Some of them are managed very well. Others are not. Some make millions through clever partnerships with big businesses. Some are lucky and hit the jackpot. In 2012, the non-profit Central Park Conservancy in New York received a $100 million donation from hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made an estimated four billion dollars by betting the U.S. housing market would slump.
Charities come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Given this diversity, is it wise to make a blanket statement such as:
“Now offering FREE voiceovers for charity and animal rescue organizations.”
Wouldn’t it make much more sense to evaluate each charity and non-profit on a case-by-case basis, before giving your work away?
I have three questions for you:
- If some of them can afford to pay their CEO more than this nation pays its president, should we really be offering our services for free?
- If some charities are generously compensating celebrities to make a brief appearance at a fund-raiser, why should we work pro bono? (more info here)
- If some charities choose to waste donations or take huge sums of money from corporations without full disclosure, should we still be providing our services and not charge a penny?
I greatly value the work most non-profits do, but I want them to value my work as well. I am not a charity. I am in business to turn a profit. At the end of the day, that profit allows me to make charitable contributions, quite possibly to the organizations I’ve worked for.
Before I write out those checks, I do my research. I want to know how my money is going to be spent. I only give to organizations that are transparent and accountable and that can show clear results. Charity Navigator.org offers plenty of tools to objectively evaluate thousands of charities, non-profits and foundations.
Today I finished narrating a documentary highlighting some of the work of Handicap International. This is a non-governmental organization, known for its fight against anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. It also helps the victims of these unexploded devices. The film focuses on the people of Laos, the most bombed country in the world.
I could have offered to do this project pro bono, but I’m charging my regular fee without feeling the least guilty. You see, this documentary is not funded by some desperate, cash-strapped, small charity in a developing country.
It is entirely paid for by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This year, tiny Luxembourg took second place on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest nations.
I’m more than happy to help them spread the wealth!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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