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AFP Responds to NY Times Piece on “Who Will Watch the Charities?”

June 3, 2015

New York Times
Letter to the Editor

David’s Callahan raises some important points about philanthropy (“Who Will Watch the Charities,” May 31) but his recommendations are ill-informed.

Stating that some charities are more worthy and deserving than others is wrong-headed and impractical. What’s the most worthy cause: building homes, protecting a key piece of the environment for future generations, feeding families, pushing for legislation that gives equal rights, funding scholarships, providing job training or running a campaign talking about the dangers of drunk driving? How do we measure the impact of each to determine which is the “best?”

In addition, new issues arise all the time as society changes. If we’re now in the business of determining “worthy” causes, how long will we need to have waited before “approving” new causes that come into the mainstream, such as spousal abuse or LGBT rights?

And while I agree that better oversight of the sector is needed, the fact is there’s enough policy—and enough regulatory bodies—already in place to do that—to say nothing of the voluntary standards and practices charities implement themselves. What’s needed is funding. The Internal Revenue Service, state offices and others need the resources to do their jobs, and legitimate charities want that because these organizations help weed out the bad apples.

The recent crackdown on the four cancer charities Callahan mentions occurred with the unprecedented cooperation between investigators at the federal level and all 50 states.  Can that keep happening? Hopefully so. But to make a meaningful difference, Congress and state legislatures need to fully fund these regulatory bodies.

Charities exist to create the society we believe we need to provide opportunity for all—not just feeding the poor and treating the sick, but providing all kinds of opportunities—education, the arts, the environment, civil rights, research and countless others. That is the defining feature of the American charitable system, and it needs to be strengthened and supported with fully funded oversight that weeds out those illegitimate organizations that give charities a bad name.

Andrew Watt, FInstF

President and CEO
Association of Fundraising Professionals

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