Get The Most Bang For Your Charity Buck

By Will Roseliep   |   Tuesday, December 20, 2011
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Dec. 20, 2011

BOSTON — The holiday season is a busy one for charities. Shoppers give spare change to the red-suited bell ringers outside stores, while businesses cut year-end checks to finish out the tax season. 

It’s certainly the time of good feelings for those helping the less fortunate. But people want to know their donations will be put to good use. An exchange on The Callie Crossley Show underscores how difficult it can be to objectively rate and analyze whether contributions are well spent.
Enter services like Charity Navigator, which use criteria like the financial health and transparency of charities to rate how they well use donor dollars. Charity Navigator CEO Ken Berger said it’s the best way to avoid misunderstandings.
“You wanted to see basic health research done,” Berger said, as an example, “and this organization, what it ends up is doing advocacy for policy legislation change. And that’s great, but not really what you had in mind.”

Check out Charity Navigator's holiday giving guide.

However, Paul Schervish, the director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, raised questions about evaluating charities. He said that in a class he teaches, a student was misled by an organization's low rating: “[She] had one group she was very impressed with. When she looked it up [it was rated only] two stars.”

Schervish said it was because “the director was paid $119,000 relative to the costs and expenses of the organization. This is a place that serves lunches to women with tablecloths.” However, he thought executive compensation shouldn’t be the only determining factor. In this case, the organization serves 50,000 lunches a year, he said, and the director “is doing a lot of work, because the outcome is so valuable and they get their materials so cheaply.”
Berger said Charity Navigator — a free web service — uses many different criteria to determine ratings.
“Charity Navigator doesn’t rate any organization based on CEO pay. We look at the ratio of expenses in the program area and infrastructure and so forth,” he said.
Berger noted that the best way to know whether dollars are being used most effectively is to visit the charity and “eyeball it yourself. Certainly in the case of smaller organizations, the only way to get it is by going there yourself.”

But, Berger acknowledged, “The vast majority of people are not going to do that.”
With the holiday season in full swing, time is running out for would-be donors to check up on charities and decide for themselves what is or isn’t a cause worthy of their support. 

Poverty: 'No One's Proud To Get Government Cheese'

By WGBH News & Wires   |   Sunday, December 18, 2011
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Dec. 19, 2011

food pantry

In November 2011, veterans line up at a Greater Boston Food Bank mobile food pantry. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

BOSTON — New data from the 2010 Census suggest that one in every two Americans has fallen into poverty, or earns wages considered to be low-income.

Making matters worse: Howard Manly, executive editor of The Bay State Banner, said on "The Callie Crossley Show" that the people now considered poor are the ones least likely to seek assistance.

"No one's really proud to get $200 a month in free government cheese," he said. "They want to go out and get jobs — and they in fact have jobs; it's just that it's very difficult to make ends meet."

The new data raised the question, Manly said, of whether the government should do more during tough economic times, especially for middle- and working-class families who are technically "impoverished" but don't qualify for assistance. 

The low-income threshold is roughly $45,000 for a family of four. Children were most likely to be poor or low-income — about 57 percent — followed by seniors over 65. However, some news outlets have raised questions about the data.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

From Crates To Business To Government: Taking On Global Poverty

By Kara Miller   |   Friday, December 16, 2011
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Former shipping containers become health clinics in Haiti, thanks to the Boston-based Containers2Clinics. (Courtesy Containers2Clinics)
Iraqi women make candles for Prosperity Candle, a Western-Mass.-based company that gives its producers a share in the company (Courtesy Prosperity Candle)

Many developmental economists believe that poverty can be conquered — but how? Some believe governance, security and the help of multilateral institutions are key; others look to ground-up, free-market initiatives.

We invite panelists who represent a spectrum of innovations to combat global poverty — one big initiative, or one tiny step, at a time.



New Strategies To Tackle Poverty In Boston

By Kara Miller   |   Friday, December 16, 2011
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Part 1:

Part 2:

Local networks and communities, like the Mattapan Library, where two young men are seen job-searching last year, are considered an important tool in fighting poverty. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH) 

In a tough economic climate, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has gotten wider. In Boston where the cost of living has risen 70% over the past two decades, poverty is on the rise too. In some areas of the city, 42 percent of children are impoverished.

We talk to innovators aiming to break that cycle, organizations that are taking homeless people off the streets and investing in families. Each organization has a different mission, but they share the tactic of helping the poor by empowering them.


Click the players above to hear the conversation.

Two Studies Find Growing Income Inequality In Region

By WGBH News   |   Tuesday, December 13, 2011
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Dec. 14, 2011

occupy boston robin hood was right

Protesters with the Occupy Boston movement, like this man, have brought the issue of income inequality to the fore. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

BOSTON — Not one but two new reports from Massachusetts think tanks confirm that Occupy Boston's chief grievance — growing income inequality — is a growing problem in the region.

A very different 30 years
Despite the state's technology, medical and educational centers, incomes are now distributed less equitably in greater Boston than in 85 percent of the metro areas in the U.S., Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) executive director Marc Draisin said on “The Emily Rooney Show” on Dec. 13. And the gulf between the haves and have-nots is growing wider.

Marc Draisin talks about the MAPC study

“In 1979, a person in the top 20 percent earned about 6 or 7 times what a person in the bottom 20 percent earned. Today, they earn about 10 times as much,” Draisin said. “The bottom 80 percent, their income in inflation-adjusted dollars has remained about the same — in some cases even gone down. The top 20 percent, they’ve had a great 30 years! Their incomes have been going up and up.”
The poorest fifth of the region’s population currently earns a median income of roughly $20,000 while the richest fifth earn about $212,000 per year, according to the MAPC report.

The last, lost decade

The MassINC report, released on Dec. 14, focuses on the last 10 years, which it calls a "lost decade."

Ben Forman discusses the MassINC study

That report also found rising income inequality, coupled with growing underemployment. That, MassINC research director Ben Forman told WGBH News' Jordan Weinstein, is of particular concern.

"A lot of people with college degrees aren't in jobs that require college degrees," Forman said. Overall, about one in four workers in Massachusetts is un- or underemployed. That's in spite of the fact that academic achievement keeps rising, a paradox Forman called "stunning."

"We have the nation's most educated workforce," Forman said — for instance, the number of people in the state with master's degrees doubled in the last decade — but in that time, "only six states had slower job growth than we had."  

That's led to increasing pessimism in the state about the "American Dream," an issue WGBH News explored this November in its "Where We Live" series.

Some other key findings

- Massachusetts’ poorest families pay more than twice as much of their income on taxes as do the state’s richest families. (MAPC)
- Half the region’s renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. (MAPC)
- The number of employed residents under age 55 has dropped by 12 percent. (MassINC)
- Over one-third of the state's teens (age 16–19) and over one-quarter of young adults (age 20–24) were un- or underemployed in 2010. (MassINC)
Further reading

- MAPC report: State of Equity in Greater Boston
- MassINC report: Meeting the Challenges of the Bay State's Lost Decade

Charities Cope With Drop In Donations

By WGBH News   |   Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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Nov. 30, 2011

BOSTON — Those paper pleas for donations that pour through the mail slot with the holiday catalogs and credit-card bills are coming with a greater urgency this season: Mass. charities are trying to deal with with a significant drop in giving.
The prolonged recession has had a leveling effect across the region, from job loss and home foreclosures to slashed budgets and reduced hiring. Local charities have been hit especially hard with an increased demand for services like housing, food and fuel assistance. 

But financial support from the community hasn't kept pace.
Ellen Parker, the executive director of Project Bread, said on The Callie Crossley show on Nov. 30 that the organization has received six percent less in donations this year.
Meanwhile, she said, “We have a food source hotline where people call from all over Massachusetts. Those calls have gone up from 36,000 to nearly 50,000 in two years.”
Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, said that donors are choosing to spend money closer to home.
“What we discovered is that while these people — when you ask them carefully about what they give formally to charity — turned out to be giving almost to the penny what the average was in the nation. But over and above that, they provided five times more in goods, in housing, in automobiles, in food and school clothes to family members in need,” Schervish said.

About the Authors
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

Podcast: iTunes | XML

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The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 


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