Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy bring out the generosity in people. They can also bring out individuals and groups who would take advantage of that generosity by stealing or misusing charitable donations. Fortunately, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is on the case. On Tuesday he sent letters to 75 nonprofits asking them to disclose their fund-raising and relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, with more letters to others to come.
This is called transparency and accountability, and it’s important if donors are to have confidence that their money, or at least as much of it as possible, is going to help the victims as intended.
It’s not just a question of outright fraud, which there was plenty of after 9/11. It’s also a matter of how much of the money raised will go directly to Sandy’s victims, how much will be used for administration, how much will go to the nonprofit’s other programs, and what will be done with any surplus funds.
Schneiderman wants all this information, and in timely fashion — by Dec. 11. After that, the attorney general’s Charities Bureau will assemble the information and put it online, so donors can see for themselves what will happen to their money. And the chief of the bureau says that more detailed information will be sought in the weeks and months to come, and shared with the public.
The expectation is that most of the money raised will be going to the victims — unlike those fund-raising campaigns revealed in the attorney general’s most recent annual report, “Pennies for Charity,” where for-profit telemarketers got to keep an average of 64 cents from every dollar raised.
But the numbers will tell the story, and influence public attitudes about charities. At stake aren’t just donations for Hurricane Sandy’s victims, but donations for other needy people during these difficult economic times and this holiday season, when generous New Yorkers are usually eager to lend a helping hand.