There are more than 1.7 million nonprofits active in the United States, making nonprofits the third biggest sector in the United States. Many of these nonprofits are charitable organizations that collect money and start initiatives to help specific groups. With all these organizations out there, it’s crucial to know the worst charities to donate to so that your money doesn’t go to waste.
An astonishing 81% of all Americans have donated to charity or religious organizations according to Gallup polling. Millions of workers set aside some of their hard-earned paychecks so that they can share their fortune with people who are most in need of support. Unfortunately, while organizations may claim to do a lot of good, some of them are disingenuous about where donations are going.
The worst charities in America too often pose as respectable organizations. Unethical executives, poorly run organizations, and fraudulent activities can all contribute to a charity by saying one thing and then doing the opposite. When choosing an organization to donate to, having a transparent and honest organization will guarantee that more of your money goes directly to the cause you want to support rather than into the pockets of those who run the organization.
Not all charities are bad, but the ones that are harmful are often prominent organizations that people trust based on name recognition or because they want to support causes close to their hearts. By knowing which organizations may have less than ethical practices, you can empower yourself to make better financial decisions and better leverage the impact of your money. Plus, you give traction to organizations that honestly seek to help causes as much as they can.
Our Methodology of Choosing Worst Charities To Donate
The following guide has been developed to highlight the worst charities to donate to in 2023. This list was created with diligent research to provide the most relevant information on the topic. Using information including charity websites, charity efficacy reports, watchdog organizations, consumer research, news stories, financial reports, and government websites, this list has been compiled with the most recent and accurate research possible.
Some of the most prominent resources that have been invaluable in the collection of this information include:
- The Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice offers resources and best practices for giving to charity.
- The IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search Tool to learn more about organizations’ tax-exempt status and filings.
- The BBB Wise Giving Alliance accredits charities that have met accountability standards that speak to themes of governance, results reports, finances, and truthful and transparent representations.
- Charity Navigator is a tool that allows you to search charities and causes to give to deserving organizations.
- Nonprofit information hub, Candid offers additional information on nonprofit organizations and promoting the most good.
The compilation of this list has included the comparisons of hundreds of charities, and judgments have been made based on factors such as the prominence of the charity, how much they give, and any scandals that have arisen from the charity. Organizations that have intentionally done harm have been given additional weight in these calculations as well as organizations that may be especially known and thereby pose a larger threat. These worst non-profits to donate too often lack transparency and have a history of unethical or misleading practices, but any ineffective behaviors were considered.
1. Cancer Fund of America
While the American Cancer Fund of America is now dissolved, it is just one of many philanthropic centers started by James T. Reynolds and his crooked family. From this fund, Reynolds took home an annual salary of around $230,000.
That the charity (and we mean “charity” in the loosest possible sense) only managed to find it in its heart to give 2.5% of its donations to support the families of cancer victims and fund cancer research (its supposed raison d’etre) is even worse. With Reynolds’ track record, you want to be on the lookout for any organizations that may emerge from the dissolved Cancer Fund of America.
2. American Breast Cancer Foundation
The 2nd cancer research charity to make our list is the American Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization set up in 1997 with the intent of funding health education and free breast exams for women.
I say intent… as one of the worst charities in the US, it’s managed to achieve only 2 of the 4 available stars awarded by Charity Navigator, an organization dedicated to informing us about the best and worst charities out there). Any evidence that any of the thousands it’s raised through appeals have made their way to the appropriate services is so thin on the ground as to be non-existent.
3. Children’s Wish Foundation
Anyone reading the name of the next charity on our list stands a good chance of confusing it with the far more famous (and far more reputable) charity, The Make-a-Wish Foundation.
So close are the two names, that anyone with a suspicious mind may be inclined to think the execs over at the Children’s Wish Foundation had either never heard of their “almost” namesake, or were very craftily and very deviously trying to piggyback on its good name.
Given the less-than-stellar reputation of owner Linda Dozoretz, we’re going to have to plump for the latter. Even in 2003, the organization was causing scandal for giving expensive gifts and the founders indulging in luxuries. The organization refuses to be transparent and maintains many of its questionable practices 20 years later.
4. Disabled Veterans National Fund
This organization says it will help veterans, but its leaders have shown a history of mismanaging their funds and using very little of their funds to actually help veterans. This organization has had a long history of making poor decisions and came under fire starting in 2012 and in 2014 when only 15% of their funds went to veterans. Their operations led to an investigation and then a settlement. These legal issues led to a turbulent future.
The organization had the chance to make a new name for itself and overcome its previous issues, but it did not take the opportunity to change its future and remains a corrupted organization that doesn’t use most of its money for its outlined causes.
5. SPCA International
Our furry friends are often cherished members of our families, and SPCA International says its goal is to help animals; however, the organization has received an F rating from CharityWatch for spending less than 10% of its budget on animal programs.
The charity has come under question for its ethics and many people involved with the group have shown shady histories in the nonprofit sector. For example, the program development manager was previously associated with Noah’s Wish, a charity that got into hot water for not using contributions for their claimed purposes.
6. United States Deputy Sheriffs’ Association
If a charity (or indeed, any organization) is forced to move its headquarters to a new state on account of the dodgy dealings and underhand practices it’s been getting up to in its old home, anyone with any sense should know to keep well away. This organization has long hit the news with its scams, but it continues to try to extort money.
Unfortunately, the United States Deputy Sheriffs’ Association is well versed enough in manipulation to convince even the most well-meaning of folk that it’s still a cause worthy of their support. In two words, it’s not.
Unless you want your money to go toward lawsuits (it’s already coughed up $200,000 to Iowa, Florida, and Texas), take my advice and find another charity to support… although preferably one on another list to this one.
7. Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth
A husband and wife running a charity… what could be nicer? In the case of Mike and Melody Gibson, pretty much everything. The dastardly duo run Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth, a charity with the very worthy aim of providing support and assistance to the families of missing children.
In practice, it does no such thing, preferring instead to siphon 82% of its donations into its solicitors’ pockets, and a good proportion of the rest into their own.
Florida and Iowa have already caught up with their underhand practices, and the pair are currently banned from telemarketing in either state. Unfortunately, the rest of the country is their oyster.
8. National Caregiving Foundation
It’s national, it’s caregiving, it’s a foundation. What could possibly go wrong? In the case of the National Caregiving Foundation, a lot.
Its listed activities sound well-intentioned enough (after all, who could question such noble acts as providing scholarships to those interested in a future in healthcare, providing educational kits on mental illness, and providing assisted living facilities to the elderly?)
When push comes to shove, however, there’s no real evidence of the foundation doing anything of these things.
What there is evidence of, on the other hand, is director Regina Salta’s salary, which amounts to a staggering $106,472 a year according to Charity Navigator. Anyone wondering how the “charity” manages to support such a huge paycheck may need to double back to the start of the article.
9. Project Cure (Florida)
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s just two words long. Project Cure may sound like just the kind of dynamic, up-and-at-’em charity that’s getting things done, but in reality, it’s not doing much beyond making up fictitious stories about raising public awareness about some of the most serious and topical diseases of the day (and paying for a minuscule storage unit in Florida that conveniently provides an address for the company headquarters). Their current website is Natural Health Line, so watch out for this dangerous chameleon.
If you want to see barely a cent of your donation go towards an actual good cause, then go right ahead and pop your cheque in the post, Otherwise, save yourself the bother and send it to someone who might do something good with it … the Project Cure’s in Ohio and Colorado (neither of which are associated with their Florida namesake) represent two such possibilities.
10. On Your Feet, Inc.
On Your Feet, Inc. is a charity designed to help people who struggle with hard community events or provide disaster relief. Unfortunately, this organization has many red flags that suggest it is not as upstanding as it claims to be. In the past, organization leaders have gone to prison for stealing millions from the charity. While the organization may have improved, it has yet to prove itself to be a reliable charity.
11. Committee for Missing Children
Like Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth, the next entry to our list reports to help return missing children to their parent’s arms. In reality, only 2% of donations go towards the cause. It’s no wonder that this organization gets a 0-star ranking from Charity Navigator.
The rest, funnily enough, somewhere makes it into the likes of director David Thelen’s pockets.
Thelen may defend his excessive salary by claiming to spend endless hours counseling the families of the missing children, but we doubt they’ll be very thankful when they find out how little practical effort the charity puts into finding their kids.
12. Youth Development Fund
A foundation that provides funding to youth education programs, as well as helping turn the tide on teenagers falling victim to drug and alcohol abuse, sounds like a noble enough cause, right?
Wrong. In the case of the Youth Development Fund, the majority of its donations end up being siphoned off by executive Rick Bowen, who in turn, siphons the money into his production company.
As Housely notes, unless you want your hard-earned cash going towards videos such as “underwater diving adventures,” find yourself another worthy cause.
13. Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation
The Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation is one of 8 similarly dubious charities run by Greg Anderson. As with all his other “worthy” endeavors, the Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation uses the underhand tactic of passing off soliciting calls as charitable donations on their tax returns.
As a result of training its solicitors to discuss how individuals can lessen their chances of a cancer diagnosis, 80% of the charity’s annual profits end up in the hands of its solicitors (rather than in the hands of the families it’s meant to be supporting). The organization was previously dissolved, but it is back in action and still provides little transparency about its operations.
14. Help Heal Veterans
Help Heal Veterans, also known as Help Hospitalized Veterans has had its fair share of scandals. This organization was created to help vets heal from mental and physical injuries, but this organization has done harm. In 2015, it was banned from VA hospitals. While it has made some improvements since that time, it still only has a two-star ranking, and it lacks accountability and financial transparency.
15. National Veterans Service Fund
At the helm of the National Veterans Service Fund is one Phillip Kraft (and no, he’s no relation to the founder of Kraft Group, Robert (not, at least, that we’re aware. If he is, we’re sure Robert would have disowned him by now in any case).
The charity boasts of providing support and care to the nation’s veterans. However, the only donation the IRS has ever been able to trace to the organization is an insignificant sum towards a health clinic dealing with birth defects.The majority of the rest of the money lines crafty Kraft’s pockets. Kraft remains unrepentant of the charity’s less than stellar record, telling As Vet Like Me: “A small percentage of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.”
16. Firefighter’s Charitable Foundation
The Firefighter’s Charitable Foundation provides financial assistance to the families of those who’ve been affected by fire or other disasters. Charity Navigator disagrees vehemently, affording the organization a devastatingly low 0 out of 4 stars.
The reason? A deplorable 90% of the charity’s donations are claimed as fundraising expenses. This leaves just 10% to go where it should.
17. Kids Wish Network
This is another charity to piggybank of the good name of the Make a Wish Foundation. In this case, we have the far less reputable Kids Wish Network. According to Heavy.com, only 2.5 cents for every dollar raised goes towards the sick kids it claims to help. The majority of the rest is funneled back into the accounts of its fundraising solicitors.
18. International Union of Police Associations
A charity that provides financial assistance to the families of police officers killed on active duty. This would seem a worthy cause. Unfortunately, the International Union of Police Associations donates only 1% of its donations to its claimed beneficiaries. In the past, this organization has been flagged as a scam, and there have been no indicators that it has since reformed.
Some charities barely give any of the money they earn away. The International Union of Police Associations, for example, gives just one percent of its donations.
Overall, Wounded Warrior is known as a good charity. Charity Navigator ranks it a three (out of four) star charity. This ranking considers financial transparency and accountability as well as leadership, adaptability, culture, and community. If you like the cause that Wounded Warrior supports, you can donate with confidence.
Based on the most recent calculations, the number charity based on size is Feeding America, which has a revenue of $4.06 billion of private revenue. It is followed by United Way Worldwide, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and the Salvation Army.
The Gary Sinise Foundation is known for being a top-rated organization with an A rating from CharityWatch, and the organization is reported to spend around 87% of its budget on programs. They are also quite transparent about their basic financial information by providing financial info and audit accessibility.
It’s important to not just focus on the worst-rated charities. There are many good charities out there, but some of the top-rated charities according to Consumer Report include:
• American Humane
• Breast Cancer Research Foundation
• Cancer Research Institute
• American Kidney Fund
• Children’s Health Fund
• Hispanic Federation
• Mental Health America
• Marine Toys for Tots Foundation
• Ronald McDonald House Charities
• Boys & Girls Clubs of America
• World Resources Institute
• International Medical Corps
• Rotary Foundation of Rotary International
• Concerns of Police Survivors
• Gary Sinise Foundation
• Wounded Warriors
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Written by Allen Lee
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