Last week, I complained about scare tactics used by local governments during tax and budget planning.  This week I am going to complain about organizations misleading people with good intentions into donating money.

First, I want to point out that I encourage people to donate to their chosen causes, and donate generously.  Whether it is something as grand as feeding the people of Africa, timely like adding the people of Haiti, or as local as saving an historic building, all charity has value.  My complaint is purposefully misleading advertisements, naming or fear mongering to obtain money.

The best example of this is the Humane Society of the United States (http://www.humanesociety.org/).  At first glance or from their dramatic commercials, you would believe that these are the same people who run you local animal shelter.  This is not the case.  The HSUS is actually a subsidiary of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (http://www.peta.org/).  Nowhere on their web site does the HSUS admit its association with PETA, nor their independence from local societies.  Local Humane Societies (including SPCA, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) have suffered greatly from the divergence of charitable donations to this national organization.  I am not saying that the HSUS is not a worthy organization, it is just that it has different goals than your local Humane Society and the money may not be used in your community.

The HSUS and your local Humane Society are also not affiliated with the American Humane Association (http://www.americanhumane.org/).  They are at least a lot clearer in defining who they are, or more precisely, who they are not.  To take directly from their web site:

…And Who We Are Not

Dedicated to protecting both children and animals, American Humane is not affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that primarily uses litigation and legislation to promote animal rights. Nor is American Humane a parent organization of local “humane societies” and SPCAs, which are locally based, independent agencies that operate animal shelters and provide animal care and control services to their communities. However, many of those agencies are member organizations of American Humane. As such, they benefit from our trainings, informational and funding resources, and national programs that increase the abilities, knowledge and effectiveness of their organizations and staff.

It is interesting and disturbing to me that some so called charitable organizations are nothing more than law suit generators.  I remember when PETA sued a group called People Eating Tasty Animals for having the web site PETA.com.  The result of that law suite was that the meat eating group lost their right to advertise because it was misleading.  At the same time, PETA created the HSUS, using the Humane Society name that has been so recognized for local efforts.  I personally believe that the intent was to capitalize on that name recognition to gather more funding.  Although this is not illegal, it is misleading, and many people with good intentions have inadvertently support a militant and aggressive national group when they believed they were supporting a local effort.

All I ask is that you do some research before sending your check.  I want to reiterate that I do not think any charitable group is bad.  If you truly believe that you can save an abused animal by enacting yet anther law or suing yet another business, then by all means support PETA and the HSUS.  If you are trying to save the animals you saw being taken from an abusive situation on you evening news, find the local group that is taking on that effort.  When you donate to a large national or international group, you need to know what that money could be used for.  PETA and HSUS have active campaigns to force corporations to stop the use of all animal products with the stated goal of making vegetarianism the standard for all people.  This is in addition to their efforts to stop the use of animals for painful and questionable research, most notably in the cosmetic industry.  Other groups have much narrower goals and tasks.

The bait and switch that I am concerned with here can only work with an uneducated or lazy audience.  You can avoid funding things you don’t like by taking the time to research any organization you think you want to support.  I personally believe that you can make the biggest impact in the world by starting in your own community.

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Martin writes about writing in his weekly column Ramblings from Martin.

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