Thoughts about Giving: Let Us Help You Help Others

by Kimberly Goodrich, Senior Director of Development

In previous articles in The Motivator and posts on our blog, MS Conversations, I have talked about the current controversy over whether charity ratings are really helpful in giving a true picture of an organization’s effectiveness in meeting their mission. Does a number or a star really help you know if a nonprofit is having an impact?

Earlier this summer, I attended a luncheon on this topic with Steve Nardizzi, CEO of Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Nardizzi gave several examples where ratings from charity watchdogs were not helpful in determining if an organization is meeting its mission. In some cases, the ratings were even misleading. One example was the Central Asia Institute, formerly run by Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea. During the time that Mortenson was ordered to pay back more than one million dollars in misused funds, his organization had a four-star rating. How does this help us decide where our dollars should go?

Eight years ago WWP had higher charity ratings than it does today. But at that time they had only 10 million dollars to spend on their programs for wounded veterans. To spend more, they needed to raise more, but feared that if they spent more money on fundraising it would affect their ratio of fundraising and administrative costs as compared to program expenses. This created a vicious cycle many nonprofits find themselves in – they want to do more to serve their mission, but are unable to invest in things that help businesses grow – such as staff training, recruitment, and new fundraising ideas that may take time to build.

Today WWP continues to grow despite mediocre ratings and higher percentages spent on overhead. Why? Because its supporters see the incredible impact they are having on the lives of wounded veterans. By making a conscious effort to invest in fundraising, marketing, and staff, WWP now has lower ratings with the charity watchdogs, but they now have 176 million dollars to spend on their programs for wounded veterans. By ignoring the ratings and focusing their resources on their mission, more veterans are helped. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

At MSAA our mission is to improve the lives of those living with MS. Like WWP, the amount we spent on fundraising last year went up. Some think this is bad. However, MSAA’s increase in fundraising helped our overall ratings to go up with some of the charity rating agencies.

This increase in fundraising led to a significant increase in revenue (16.5-percent growth last year). This increase in revenue in turn allowed us to help more people living with MS. We provided diagnostic MRI assistance to 70 percent more people than the year before. Our mobile phone app was downloaded by an additional 7,000 people who now use it to track their symptoms and improve their daily lives. These are increases we are proud of and that make the decision to invest in additional fundraising streams worthwhile.