I have been meaning to post something about choosing a disability charity or organization for quite awhile. I endorse the advice in the Vox.com article. For those interested in disability matters, I strongly recommend that potential donors and supporters consider the following:
Find out how organizations spend their money, and choose an organization with priorities and interests that match your reasons for giving. Think about what kind of work you want to support. For instance:
- Money, adaptive equipment, and direct services to individual disabled people and their families.
- Programs and facilities that serve groups of disabled people.
- Public education and awareness campaigns aimed at changing attitudes and improving social acceptance of disabled people.
- Organized advocacy for specific changes in laws, regulations, policies and practices that affect disabled people.
Consider giving to an organization concerned with all kinds of disabilities, not just one condition.
Think about whether you prefer to support a locally-foucsed, independent organization, or a more high-profile, recognized organization with a state or national scope.
Seriously consider giving only to organizations with disabled people on staff, in leadership, and on governing boards.
Look very critically at how organizations talk about and portray disabilities. Do they depict disability as a heartbreaking tragedy, a hellish existence, or as something manageable through thoughtful support, social understanding, and good policies? Ask yourself how you would feel about how organizations talk about people like you if you had a disability.
Finally, let me add a couple of thoughts on staff salaries and overhead. Full disclosure ... I speak from my over 20 years of experience working at a disability non-profit organization.
Obviously, you want to watch out for "non-profit" organizations that pay stunningly high salaries to executives, consultants, and even board members. On the other hand, it’s important to keep things in perspective and not relegate all charitable work to second or third-class status in the wider economy. If you care enough about something to want it dealt with effectively, then you should pay enough to attract talented people, and make it possible for them to stick with the organization. That means paying people enough for a decent living for themselves and their families. That goes double for disabled people who work at disability organizations.
In fact, an organizational budget that seems to be heavy on salary and overhead may not necessarily be wasteful. The costs of counseling, education, organizing, and advocacy, are almost entirely in salary and benefits, along with offices, supplies, and perhaps mileage reimbursement, (for home visits), for those staff. If you prefer your money to provide material benefits directly to disabled people, then look for organizations that do more direct services and administer “pass through” funds directly to individuals.
I strongly prefer organizations “by and for” disabled people. I like organizations that do a lot of advocacy, especially fighting for better policies and practices. I split my interest about evenly between responsive, plucky local groups and truly effective and innovative national organizations. These are my personal preferences, but I do recommend them to others as well.
Still, the most important thing is to decide exactly what you want to do in the disability cause. “Giving to the disabled” doesn’t have to be confusing, but it isn’t as simple as stuffing a dollar in a can, either.