Several years ago, I cut off eleven inches of hair and donated the hair to Locks of Love. After that experience, I encouraged others to donate their hair as well. I even organized a donation event at a local salon. I was very proud that in changing up my style, I might have helped a child who had lost her hair to cancer or another disease feel better about herself.
Then, a few weeks ago, a journalist friend spent an hour telling me about how Locks of Love is less than honest about their business model, leading some salons to write off Locks of Love entirely refusing to host donation events for the non-profit.
“Locks of Love is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. We meet a unique need for children by using donated hair to create the highest quality hair prosthetics. Most of the children helped by Locks of Love have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure. The prostheses we provide help to restore their self-esteem and their confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers.”
Does it mention that they charge the children for the wigs? Not directly. And I, like most donors, assumed that the wigs were given to the children for free. After all it is a charity, and no one ever told me otherwise. But they do charge the children a fee based on the parent’s income.
Locks of Love argues that even using donate hair, the wigs are still expensive to produce so they need to charge parents in order to make ends meet. But shouldn’t a charity that profits from selling the excess hair (to the tune of more than $300,000 in 2005) and receives other cash donations leading to a budget surplus of $1.2 million dollars in 2008, have the ability to offset costs and give the wigs away for free?
During our conversation, my friend made a compelling argument that Locks of Love thrives based on a lie of omission, word of mouth and celebrity endorsements. Most patrons assume the wigs are given away for free, and Locks of Love propagates this belief by disguising the facts in vague language on their website.
If you visit the FAQ page, Locks of Love tells you that they provide the pieces for free or on a sliding scale based on income, what they don’t mention is that hairpieces are only provided for free if a sponsor can be found to cover the cost. So to ensure that the needy child receives the wig for free you need to donate your hair and $1,000 to sponsor a child. Nice.
The common wisdom is that these wigs are being provided for free so, I was very disappointed to learn that families were being charged for the wigs. Is this my fault for not properly educating myself before I donated? Sure it is, but when I donated and when I organized a Locks of Love event, I was told that these wigs were being “given” or “provided” to needy children, not sold to them. But as anyone who works in politics can tell you, spin is the art of choosing your words carefully and it is not the same as telling the truth.
If you want to donate your hair to a charity that gives wigs to needy children without charging them a dime, then you need to send your locks to Pantene Beautiful Lengths.
The concept is essentially the same as Locks of Love: you cut, you donate and it is turned into a wig. Unlike Locks of Love, the recipients apply and receive wigs at no cost. This is charity as it should be. So, when I cut off my newly grown-out hair in the Spring, I will be donating it to the Pantene program and skipping over Locks of Love and their cult of celebrity.