Workday Reading

The Edition: No. 127

Obstacles are things a person sees when she takes her eyes off her goal. — E. Joseph Cossman

Shifted. The ultimate guide to navigating a career shift.

Topped. This Boden wrap top is on all of my fall lists. (That color!)

Scrubbed. How to clean your bathroom in 10-minutes, and the best bathroom cleanser.

Bejeweled. Kate Spade has demure earrings and bold ones, but they’re all pretty.

Disappointed. When freezing your eggs doesn’t work.

Bagged. Bringing your lunch? This large bag and this salad box are highly rated.

Opened. Is it time you started using a password manager?

Blocked. These Franco Sarto block heel, in a gorgeous dusty pink, are on my fall shopping list.   So are these black ones with wood heels.

Indebted. Dept. of Education is still rejecting 99% of debt forgiveness applications.

Smoothed. Nordstrom Rack is having a giant sale on Spanx.

Slipped. How Rothy’s took over the world.

Twisted. This knot-front, <$50 Vince Camuto dress is great for fall/winter.

Scheduled. Why are are we so obsessed with other’s daily habits.

If you grew up in the 1980s, you’re probably familiar with Live Aid, the star-studded concert to end famine in Ethiopia.  SPIN Magazine was the first to ask how all the money Live Aid raised  was actually being spent.  Recently, they republished their groundbreaking story of how a sudden influx of cash, placed into the wrong hands, decimated the nation and mired it in a bloody civil war.

We often give money in response to tragedies, both natural and man-made, because we want to help alleviate suffering.  But once the check is in the mail, do we do enough to follow up on how our money is being spent?

ProPublica was vilified for pointing out missteps at the American Red Cross.  CBS News shocked donors when it revealed a culture of waste and mismanagement at Wounded Warrior Project.  The stories of misspent funds and unintended consequences run rampant.

So if you donate to charities, do you follow up on how the money is being spent?  How do we as donors ensure that our money is being used as intended?  I’d love to know what resources you use to stay informed.

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  1. Eileen says:

    RE: So if you donate to charities, do you follow up on how the money is being spent? How do we as donors ensure that our money is being used as intended? I’d love to know what resources you use to stay informed.

    Would you consider cross-posting this for discussion on the Thirtyish FB page? I think it’s a great topic and an important one.

    September 10, 2019/Reply
    • Hillary DeJong says:


      September 10, 2019/Reply
  2. Whitney says:

    I donate to the ALS Foundation and Together Rising for this reason. They post line item expenses for their donations and have great cultures of accountability.

    September 10, 2019/Reply
  3. Monica T says:

    I regularly donate to Save the Children and they hold very high rankings from many third-party non-profit watchdog groups. They also post their financial audits to their web site. It’s such an abuse of public trust when charities mismanage donor funds, it shakes our confidence in humanity.

    September 10, 2019/Reply
  4. Kate says:

    My side-hustle is working with a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit development. It’s worth it to use Guidesta/Candid, Charity Navigator, and ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer to decide where your money— no matter how much or how little— is being spent.

    September 10, 2019/Reply
  5. Margaret says:

    As someone who has worked at a variety of non-profits and have been around them all my life, including in development/fundraising:

    Things I do:
    I read the annual reports.
    I donate to local branches of organizations or local nonprofits where I can.
    I volunteer at places to ensure I’m comfortable with their staff and how things are generally run.
    I look at the 990s.

    Reality check:
    It’s hard ultimately (and part of it is straight trust), and people get really wrapped up in things like CEO salary and operating costs. People start donating to only targeted expenses. I think that’s a fairly short-sighted way of doing it. Targeted funds are especially tempting but ultimately make it much harder for non-profits to function efficiently.

    I tend to focus on whether I think their programmatic work is useful, looking at outcomes and outputs, and looking for organizations that are honest about their goals, how they think their actions are working towards them and that seem very in touch with current best practices and the demographic they want to serve (or the experts for that field, if it’s a non-human field).

    Nonprofits are also generally held to a stricter standards than for-profit businesses, but there are always unintended outcomes. I try to make sure I’m preventing giving to organizations that are downright committing fraud or are choosing to work in a way that is not actually helpful, but trying to help mitigate social issues, environmental issues, etc. is not a proven science. And the cutting-edge research on how to best go about it changes year to year. So, yeah, that’s my short essay on charitable donations.

    September 10, 2019/Reply
    • Lauren says:

      Margaret – excellent advice! I left law and went into development work (for my university/law school) last year and am often asked about “how much we take” from donations.

      September 10, 2019/Reply
    • sara says:

      this this this. as a former non-profit development professional – YES. I second everything.

      September 10, 2019/Reply
    • Kay says:

      I would like to echo some of great advice Margaret provided. Seeing money go to administrative costs or salaries isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Well functioning non-profits need to spend money on bookkeepers, admin professionals, and folks who keep the lights on everyday.

      There are also great resources out there that rate NGOs. As Margaret pointed out you can look at 990s. I find those to be the most in-depth and you can find them on the IRS website. You can also use Charity Navigator or Charity Ratings, just keep in mind that these websites usually have a threshold for rating. For example, Charity Navigator only rates non-profits over a million dollars, so many local organizations do not qualify.

      Lastly, look at how the non-profit defines success and how much money they spend obtaining that success versus the problem at large. For example, if I give money to an elephant orphanage. I might look at how many baby elephants they raise to be wild and at what cost. That said, if I am donating to a large elephant conservation group that is looking to stop the extinction of elephants. I would look at their metrics of success and compare them to cost and then lastly to the larger problem. If they say they helped arrest 10 ivory traffickers to the tune of 10 million dollars, then it’s a million dollars to one ivory poacher. If during that time span, the amount of elephants poached triples, then maybe a little more scrutiny would need to be applied for donations. Not only is a million dollars a poacher expensive but clearly the threat of arrest is not working as a deterrent.

      Just because a group has been doing something for a long time, doesn’t mean it works and doesn’t mean it’s right. Inform yourself, analyze the data, and follow your instincts,

      September 10, 2019/Reply
    • Danielle says:

      I agree with Margaret and Kay’s points. Another resource I like to use is the Donor Bill of Rights, as compiled by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

      Link is here:

      Bottom line: you should always feel good about the gift you’re giving. If you get a bad feeling about it, don’t give.

      September 11, 2019/Reply
  6. Mercedes says:

    Speaking of Rothy’s – has anyone tried the Rothy’s sneakers? I have two pairs of the point flats but would like something with a little more padding for when I’m out and about.

    September 10, 2019/Reply
    • Maddy says:

      I have a pair (and consequently am wearing them right now as I write this). They are just as great at the flats, with even more support and cushion. I’m having some foot pain issues this week and they’re making things a lot easier.

      September 10, 2019/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I haven’t yet, I’m thinking about picking up a python pair.

      September 10, 2019/Reply
  7. Tara says:

    I used to work at a large disaster response NGO who made it a chief point to show transparency in every dollar. A few things donors should always do, if curious about how they’re money is spent:

    – Always check Charity Navigator (the OG charity rating service) and Guidestar for a legitimate third-party evaluation and rating
    – Read their annual reports. Look at the finances and specifically project/expense ratio (how much is going to overheard vs. the field?).
    – Don’t be hesitant to reach out to the nonprofit! Ask someone there your real questions. Ask for proof. Ask the hard things. Trust me, if they’re legit, they’re ready to answer and show you all the cards.

    It always makes me cringe to see stories where nonprofits misuse donations as it just affirms in many people’s minds why they shouldn’t give to charity. There are SO many organizations out there doing it RIGHT and doing it with absolute excellence—but they’re not making the scandal headlines obviously. Don’t lose hope—there are absolute worldchangers out there doing incredible work, funded by many many many amazing donors in the world.

    September 11, 2019/Reply
    • shannon says:

      I second (or 3rd/4th) always checking with Charity Navigator and Guidestar for ratings.

      I’d never thought of looking at 990s. That’s brilliant!

      September 13, 2019/Reply
  8. Anonymouse says:

    I have re-oriented my giving to be primarily to local organizations. The local literacy council, public library, etc. They may not be flashy, but they do amazing work to lift and empower people. A major plus is that most of the donated dollars are spent locally. This magnified the impact of my donation.

    September 13, 2019/Reply