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A hundred-dollar bill in the shape of a heart next to a red piece of candy
Dollars in the Form of Heart. (n.d.). Retrieved from

We all have our hopes. Children wish for chocolate and get a Dum-Dum or a cheap toothbrush, adults often wish to find good in the world. Many will donate their hard-earned income to charity, dreaming that their contribution could make a difference to someone in need. But sometimes that lollipop turns out to be a sucker.

There are seemingly endless nonprofits, and nearly all of them are founded in good intentions. They are developed and organized by people who are passionate about their causes, people who work long hours and make the impossible happen on a daily basis. But like humans, no nonprofit is perfect, and some are farther from perfection than they should be. It is critical that donors are aware of the benefits and drawbacks of each nonprofit, and can choose to support the agency that most aligns with their beliefs.

One standard marker of a charity’s legitimacy is 501(c)(3) status, which designates an organization as tax-exempt. To be exempt, organizations must serve one of the purposes delineated by section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. These purposes include, but are not limited to, charitable, educational, and religious missions. To achieve 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, the organization cannot operate for profit, and earnings cannot be distributed to private parties or shareholders. Donors should always check that an organization they want to support is designated as 501(c)(3). Some nonprofits do not meet the federal requirements for tax exemption.[3]

However, even some 501(c)(3) and nationally recognized charities can be problematic. One example of a controversial 501(c)(3) is Goodwill Industries International, which seeks to provide job training and career opportunities to individuals in need. It employs senior citizens, veterans, people with criminal records, and people with disabilities at its retail stores across the United States and Canada. However, many people have cited outrage at the charity for its practice of paying disabled employees less than minimum wage, as low as 22 cents an hour. This is technically allowed through a federal loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a section of which states that employers can apply for permission to pay employees with disabilities below the minimum wage. Meanwhile, the national CEO is paid over $500,000 per year, with several regional CEOs making over $300,000. [1,4]

Another controversial organization is Autism Speaks, considered the public face of the autism community. Its logo, a blue puzzle piece, has come to symbolize autism and is the centerpiece of many awareness-raising efforts. However, many individuals with autism do not support this charity, alleging that it stigmatizes the condition it seeks to support. Opponents of the organization say that Autism Speaks uses language that describes autism as not only a disorder, but a disaster. Yet people with autism are more than their struggles, and are often creative, kind and smart, and the drivers of future innovations. For this reason, many people feel that the condition should be celebrated and that communities should focus on empowering individuals through social services that preserve their uniqueness. According to its website, Autism Speaks is “dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism,” including prenatal testing, which many fear could lead to eugenic abortion. These are not the therapeutic opportunities that many people with autism desire, but a search to end autism itself. Only 4% of the organization’s funding is used for services for people with autism. The disconnect in priorities for the organization and the community it seeks to help may be due to the fact that most of its board members are not people with autism themselves.[2]

Before making a donation, interested individuals should always do a quick news search of the charities they are interested in supporting. Other resources that can help one determine an organization’s legitimacy include:

Charity Navigator
Charity Watch

With proper research, every donation can be a treat.


[1] About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Berrington, L. (2013). A Reporter’s Guide to the Autism Speaks Debacle. Retrieved from

[3] Exemption Requirements – 501(c)(3) Organizations. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[4] Hrabe, J. (2017, December 07). Goodwill’s Charity Racket: CEOs Earn Top-Dollar, Workers Paid Less Than Minimum Wage. Retrieved from