Learning from Mistakes

When the Wounded Warrior Project fired most of its top staff, many were shocked. The scandal that came afterwards definitely left former donors, volunteers, and a knowledgeable public feeling disillusioned, dismayed and confused. How could a charity that purports to do such good be mired by such greed?

The revelations about the WWP— the lavish expenses, high salaries, and insubstantial campaigns— more than likely turned off good-natured people from ever donating to charities again. But in a recent opinion for Time Magazine, OSU Professor and Nonprofit President Gleb Tsipursky argues that WWP’s misdeeds should move us towards better philanthropy.

He acknowledges that this seems pretty counterintuitive— and you have the horns effect to thank for that. The horns effect is a psychological phenomenon that explains many discriminatory behaviors. When one member of group exhibits behavior of which we strongly disapprove, we tend to view all other members in a similar negative light. But once made aware of this bias, we can work to change it.

In Tsipursky’s view, this scandal should make us more discerning donors. We can’t lose sight of all the good that nonprofit foundations do. After all, it is they that provide services that public programs can’t or won’t do. Whether education, nutrition, or employment, there is no doubt that a charity’s work is a good thing.

However, there are steps that we can take to being responsible donors. It’s not as easy as floating a check the way of a good story teller. We need to do research to find out where our dollar goes the furthest. If you are considering making a donation, look into the books (they should be publicly available) and see how they allocate those charitable gifts.

Your research can also be aided by something called “meta-charities”— and they’re exactly what they sound like. These organizations operate on donations, and actually conduct research to identify the most effective charities in any given sector. At the end of the day, if it’s the knowledge that goes into being an informed donor that you really treasure, you may want to contribute to those!

Ross Sanner

Ross Sanner is an educational professional who serves as the Director of Institutional Advancement at the Orme School of Arizona. He is also involved in charitable initiatives, and loves exploring the outdoors!

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