6 Side Effects Of Famous Charities That Make Things Worse
You're a good person. We know this. You pay your taxes, you give to charity, and you haven't killed anyone who'll be missed. But it turns out that, through no fault of your own, some of your charitable giving -- maybe even most of it -- has gone right into the goddamned trash.
That's because ...
Donating Supplies After A Catastrophe Only Adds More Work For Relief Crews
In the wake of a terror attack or earthquake, the good folks see traumatized victims on the news and think, "These people have lost everything, what can I do?" So, they rush to the post office to send old clothing, blankets, canned food, even just stuffed toys for kids. Everything helps, right?
"I'll send them my canned corn. The Nepalese LOVE canned corn."
Actually, the glut of donated supplies following a tragedy is such an ongoing problem that emergency workers have a term for it -- they call it "the second disaster."
After the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, in which 20 primary school kids were fatally shot by one human garbage fire for no reason, well-meaning citizens mailed upwards of 67,000 teddy bears to the surviving children. We're not sure exactly how many kids these bears were supposed to be distributed amongst, and we're not exactly child psychologists, but we're guessing that if a child's trauma can't be alleviated by the sudden appearance of 10 teddy bears, then an extra 1000 teddy bears per child probably has no added therapeutic benefit.
We're also unsure each kid needed more than one box of sleds.
On top of that, Sandy Hook's surviving victims drowned under thousands upon thousands of donated toys, bicycles, clothes, and school supplies. Literal tons of stuff ... all of which has to be stored, sorted, and disposed of once every affected family no longer has room to fit a 265th used Tickle Me Elmo in their home. You know what didn't get donated? The money and manpower to sort through all of it. So, the vast majority of the stuff wound up in a dumpster, because care workers don't have time to re-donate all that stuff back into charity when they, you know, have a bunch of traumatized kids to look after.
This is not a minor problem; after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, unsolicited toy donations poured in so hard and fast that they piled up on the tarmac to the point that planes delivering crucial supplies couldn't land, and volunteers had to waste most of their time dealing with well-intentioned donations instead of actually helping the bleeding quake victims.
"Yes, we wanted toilet paper. But not like this. Not like this!"
We're not trying to be too hard on these good-hearted people, but it honestly doesn't take much research to find out what the victims on the ground actually need. It's almost like people sometimes donate to make themselves feel better, with no thought to what is actually going to solve the problem (spoiler: That is going to be something of a running theme in this piece).
As a result, after any tragedy, approximately 60 percent of your donations are thrown in the garbage for the simple fact that they can't possibly be utilized. Instead, crisis workers beg you to do the same thing that you do when your nephew or niece has a birthday and you don't know them well enough to give a personalized gift: send some goddamned money.
Let him spend it on a meal. Don't FedEx him a burrito.
That, by the way, is the exact same thing you should do whenever a food pantry is holding a canned food drive. They get overwhelmed with expired/unpopular food items people have cleared from the back of their cabinet which, once again, go right in the trash. If you really want to help, they much prefer you donate cash. It's not as satisfying as the feeling of handing over actual, physical food to needy people, but it is far more effective.
On a similar note ...
Donating Blood During A Disaster Means Shortages Later
Those who can't donate stuff in the wake of a disaster, do have something they can give: blood. And give they do -- the news always shows long lines at donation centers as patriotic Americans step up to have gallons of their precious life fluid extracted to give to the wounded.
Under "blood type," they tick "red, white, and blue."
Here's the thing: donated blood only lasts around 42 days before it expires and becomes reclassified as "biological waste," joining the ranks of removed tumors, dismembered limbs, piles of cancer, and other dangerous human detritus that hospitals have to take special care to safely dispose of each day. And although blood banks face a perpetual shortage of supply during the year, they face the opposite problem after a disaster -- so goddamn many people line up to donate their life-fluid after a tragedy that the vast majority of it winds up in the trash, despite people's best intentions.
For example: After the 9/11 attacks, blood banks across the nation received over 572,000 units of blood in three months. And, because that was way more than they needed in that span of time, around 300,000 pints of it wound up going straight into the trash, due to the fact that they couldn't use it all before it expired.
Most was chucked down hallways, throws at prom queens, etc.
But that isn't even the worst part, or the fact that those dumpsters were probably just swarming with vampires. The problem is that after the catastrophe has blown over, most Americans feel like they've fulfilled their patriotic duty, and they stop giving blood. After the rush of blood donations immediately following 9/11, donations fell off sharply, to the point that blood banks went back to begging for donations by December of the same year (to be fair, most people simply don't realize that blood doesn't keep).
Of course, the lesson here isn't to stop donating blood, but rather to try and do it regularly, instead of waiting until you see live footage of panicked, wounded people on your television. But, once more, that just doesn't give people the same satisfaction -- they would much rather feel like they're part of a patriotic effort to stick it to Al Qaeda than to assist with the boring day-to-day maintenance of an ongoing problem.
Hair Donations For Bald Kids Mostly Wind Up In The Garbage
Tragically, thanks to genetic spot baldness, burns, and cancer, there are a whole bunch of children in the world who don't have any hair. Since being a kid is hard enough as it is, there are several charities that accept hair donations to fashion into wigs for bald kids, such as Wigs for Kids, Children with Hair Loss, and most famously, Locks of Love. Maybe you've seen a famous celebrity earn big publicity points for donating.
A slightly smaller sacrifice when you're already chopping it off for a film role.
But in 2013, the independent charity investigator organization Nonprofit Investor looked into Locks of Love to see exactly where all that hair goes. What they found was that 80 percent of the hair that is donated to them goes straight in the trash -- either it's not long enough, or it's dyed, or it has gray hairs, which is no good because no 10-year-old wants to look like Sam Waterson.
And yet, that's not really the charity's fault, right? Only certain hair is wig-worthy and donors can't be expected to understand that. But even so, based on how much useable hair Locks of Love receives, Nonprofit Investor estimates that they should be able to produce around 2,000 wigs a year. However, in 2013 the charity only managed to produce 317. According to the organization, they only got 317 orders that year, and the rest of the hair was sold off to finance their operations.
Sold to the professional hair incinerators, we assume.
Sure, making wigs costs money, and Locks of Love needs an income stream to meet their operation costs and continue doing what they do. But the point is, if you decide to shave your coif and donate it to charity, even if it manages to pass the stringent quality guidelines, there's still no way of knowing whether it's actually going to help an afflicted child feel a little more normal, or whether it's going to get auctioned off to a creepy guy making a fur coat.
Add it all up, and you have an incredibly inefficient form of charity ... unless, of course, the real beneficiaries aren't bald kids, but rather people who want to post pictures of their shaved head on social media to prove to the world how much they care.
Donating Your Old Glasses Is Pointless At Best
You have probably seen the boxes at your local grocery store or pharmacy that ask you to donate your old glasses so that some kid in a developing country can see better. Once again, it sounds great -- people in the third world suffer the same vision problems that we do, but most of them don't have access to top-notch optical care, and glasses are expensive as hell. Better to hand down your used eyewear to someone who needs it than to let it sit in a desk drawer or landfill like some kind of shithead.
Using CVS's donation bin instead of the trash bin is the bare minimum for not being a dick.
But research into the costs of recycling spectacles has shown that there's actually no benefit to it -- in fact, as stupidly expensive as glasses are, it's somehow still cheaper to design custom eyewear for poor people than it is to hand down a used pair.
First of all, if you're getting rid of your old glasses in the first place, it's probably because they're ... well, old. And somewhat to thoroughly busted, with crooked frames, scratched lenses, or bridges held together with tape. On top of that, your glasses were most likely designed for both your specific sight problem and the shape of your uniquely deformed head. Even if your old glasses are miraculously in perfect shape, it's highly unlikely that you'll find anyone else who will get the same benefit from them -- researchers discovered that only 7 percent of donated glasses can be re-fitted.
Those that can't, get to deal with another Thanksgiving dinner hearing about their cousin, Sunglasses, and their successful modeling career.
Yeah, that's somehow an even worse ratio than most of the stuff on this list. Now, take that number and consider how much it costs for staff to sort through millions of pairs of glasses, test them, discard and dispose of the 93 percent that will never do anyone any good, and then track down those few lucky short-sighted Cinderellas who match up with one of the prizes in your eyeglass lottery. They did the math, and found out that it's much cheaper, quicker, and easier to just make new glasses the regular way for the people who need them.
At this point, you might think the problem is that donors tend to go cheap -- poor-quality donations choke the supply chain with stuff nobody can use. But this problem persists even when you're talking about devices worth more than your car ...
Medical Equipment Donated To The Third World Often Just Gathers Dust
Hey, you remember that Matt Damon movie Elysium? Okay, well, do you at least remember the ads for it?
The idea was that all of Earth's evil rich people lived on a luxurious space station, leaving the rest of us poor bastards to scrape by in third-world conditions on Earth. Up in Elysium, the rich folks had advanced machines that could cure any disease, but greedily denied them to sick folks from down here. The happy ending of the film is that Matt Damon straps on a robot suit and helps the good guys take over ... with the final sequence showing those life-saving machines being airlifted down to the planet where the poor could finally use them.
Now try taking Matt Damon's political advocacy seriously ever again.
Well, here's how that plays out in the real world: We rich countries do in fact donate our old gadgets like EEGs and ultrasounds to the third world -- we don't even make them fight us in cyborg form first. Yet, around half of that equipment will never even be switched on, and will just sit idle in the back of some struggling hospital until it falls apart. It's not because they resent the donation or don't understand how to use the machines, but that third-world hospitals simply aren't equipped to run them.
There's a somewhat naive assumption that you can just take something insanely complicated like an EEG machine, plug it in and go. Then you find out that, for instance, the electrical infrastructure in a country like the Gambia uses a different voltage than what is used in the United States, which means that most of the equipment the U.S. tries to donate instantly becomes expensive and unwieldy paperweights. Then there's the fact that complicated equipment needs constant maintenance to function properly. An impoverished hospital in the Congo probably doesn't have a whole lot of people on staff that are qualified to service this monstrosity:
"The best we can do is stack the parts to look like a robot friend for the children's wing."
Sometimes, medical devices are donated without all the parts they need to function. In others, they just break down and nobody knows how to fix them. Whatever the individual reasons may be, the World Health Organization estimates that around 70 percent of donated medical equipment in sub-Saharan Africa isn't being used. As one hospital administrator who spoke with The Atlantic put it: "Donations just do not work. That is almost always the case."
And it's difficult or impractical to properly dispose of the busted equipment, which means that many third-world hospitals have store rooms groaning under the weight of costly, useless crap that the developed world has helpfully donated to them.
They're looking at maps, wondering what ever-poorer country they can palm these off on.
It's almost as if charity, without some kind of research and forethought, is a half-measure that mainly makes the donors feel good about themselves and/or take a deduction on their taxes. In fact, we'd bet that the more needy the recipient and the more emotional the cause, the more likely donors are to blindly give without scrutiny. After all, wouldn't you feel like shit questioning the motives of, say, a charity intended to help wounded veterans?
The Wounded Warrior Project Is Infamous For Spending Donations On Bullshit
If you're the type of person who isn't a monster, you've probably at least considered donating to a veteran's charity, like the Wounded Warrior Project. In 2015, the WWP spent $282 million making life better for the more than 52,000 soldiers who have been injured in military service since 9/11. If you listen to talk radio, you've definitely heard ads for this one -- if you're all about "the troops," show it!
However, while comparable veterans' charities spend more than 90 percent of their income on vets, the WWP only gives about 60 percent of their annual bank to the cause. Where does the rest of the money go? Well, a CBS investigation revealed that the WWP just likes to throw stupid elaborate parties for its employees, which is an undeniably noble pursuit when you aren't using donated money for military veterans to do it. For example, the WWP spent over $25 million in 2015 on internal programs they referred to as "team building." That's more than they spend on most of their actual programs for veterans.
According to former employees, the bonds of the WWP team were strengthened by the power of mariachi music and maracas emblazoned with the corporate logo at lavish company parties. When trying to help men and women acclimate to civilian life after suffering a life-altering injury, it's also important to spend $3 million on sending all of your employees to a five-star resort in Colorado, requiring that even those who live locally stay at the hotel for a four-day booze orgy.
Cinco de oh, hell no.
After getting called out for gross mismanagement of funds, CEO Steven Nardizzi and his associate Al Giordano were fired in March 2016. That's great, but it'd have been nice if someone inside the building would have cared about them pissing away money before it wound up on the nightly news.
For more ways you're fucking it all up, check out 5 Popular Forms of Charity (That Aren't Helping) and 5 'Innocent' Things We Do (Are Environmentally Catastrophic).
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