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Cornelius News

The compassion industry tugs at heart strings, wallets

By Dave Yochum

featured_charity‘Tis the season for charities to pop out of the woodwork. Meanwhile, there are shrewd double-timers out there who take advantage of charities and non-profits that provide similar services.

When it comes to doing good for others, it’s a jungle out there.

One Cornelius charity has been suspended by the N.C. Secretary of State for failure to comply with Department of Revenue requirements.  And there are dueling charities targeting the same audiences and tapping into the same people for support.

“People get this great idea but they don’t have the financial tools to make it all happen,” says Linda Beck, the community director for United Way in Mooresville/Lake Norman.

“The beauty of giving to United Way is that we’re a good financial advisor as to where your money is going,” Beck said, referring to the arduous certification process United Way member agencies go through every year before they receive another round of funding.

United Way, of course, had its own issues back in 2008 when its former CEO was asked to resign. Donations fell $14 million along with an unquantifiable loss in public trust. The new CEO, Jane McIntyre, turned the agency around and re-established United Way as perhaps the best way to filter through literally hundreds of ways to put your charitable dollars to work

McIntyre reduced overhead by cutting salaries and staff, not to mention refrigerators. (Now there are four instead of eight.)

The agency regained its financial footing during McIntyre’s tenure, with Ingersoll Rand employees in Davidson bringing in $1.27 million, up from $300,000 in 2009.

Ada Jenkins Center, the gold standard of social services in North Mecklenburg, received a check for $61,400. Georgia Krueger, executive director of Ada Jenkins, is the dean of the non-profit world here.

She and the Ada Jenkins board work hard to keep overhead down and services up, but a low overhead isn’t the end all and be all for a charity—it’s really all about providing the services.

“A lot of times a new non-profit comes along and they haven’t done any research, they don’t know what they’re doing and they just want to do good,” Krueger says.

The notion of just doing good for the sake of feeling good doesn’t hold a lot of water in today’s world. “It’s exactly where the whole toxic charity thing comes from because what happens is there’s a duplication of services, and what that means is that someone who knows how to play the system is going to play the system. They will find a way to get every bit they can,” Krueger says.

Indeed, the 2011 book, “Toxic Charity,” says the “compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise,” but the results are often not measured, not analyzed.

Charitable giving at home and abroad, author Robert Lupton contends, has not made a huge dent in poverty. To some extent, charity can increase dependency.

He argues that while short-term mission trips cost upwards of $2.5 billion annually, they displace local labor, and distract local churches from their work. Lupton posits that mission-goers get more than they give.

Krueger uses the message of “Toxic Charity” to stay sharp. She works hard to partner up with other non-profit efforts, so as not to duplicate services

“There are a lot of us out there, especially in our region…we will not duplicate services. We will partner with them instead. If there is a gap that we can fill together,  we will do our darndest to have them in our building,” Krueger says.

Non-profits should also be well managed and sustainable.

Beck says United Way helps ensure that “donations are allocated to agencies that are financially viable and have sound financial policies.”

Specific concerns are duplication of services, effectiveness and progress. Says Beck: “Are they making headway? Are they turning the dial?”

Non-profit agencies supported by United Way in Mooresville-Lake Norman served 30,100 people this last fiscal year, up from 26,710 the year before.

“We’re trying to do things that long-term change a person’s life,” Beck explains.

Passion is part of the non-profit equation, so are blood, sweat and tears. And non-profits don’t have to be part of the United Way to make a difference.

Take Arlene Berkman. She has invested well into the six figures of her and husband Milt’s money to launch The Foundation for Respect Ability, a legitimate 501c3 that helps fight bullying in schools.

She was retired 16 months when she launched the foundation five years ago.

The Foundation for Respectability is unique, and it has a successful track record of partnering with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools on programs that help administrators —and parents— identify bullying as well as teach children how much damage bullies inflict.

“Nobody puts in the intensity of time that we do in the school. I dreamt this up, from being a teacher and working with kids and working with teachers. I really understood how this works. I designed the program based on what we knew. That’s why we are unique…we came up with a program for the full school year…the kids get this all year,” she says.

While some non-profit mission statements are impossibly broad, her mission statement is clear: “We want to convert bystanders into upstanders,” Berkman says.

Toys for Tots has been making Christmas better for millions of disadvantaged children for more than 60 years.

Marine Warren “Bud” Kurtz got this year’s effort in Cornelius and Lake Norman under way back in September. The retired colonel, a Marine helicopter pilot, and his team of retired Marines see to it that drop boxes for toys are at places like PostNet, Ace Hardware, Uncle Bob’s Storage, Michael Waltrip Racing, Chocolate Pizza, Walgreens, Habitat for Humanity and Jay’s at the Lake.

These Santa’s helpers are busy. The job involves getting the boxes out and picking them up; delivering the toys to a storage location (Uncle Bob’s on Westmoreland); sorting the toys by gender and age; and working with local churches and police departments on the “orders”—AKA wish lists—from deserving children.

“This community is very generous,” Kurtz says, pointing out at the same time that the toys coming in and going out are audited.

The Marines lined up about four dozen locations last year, and recruited nine new ones this year. Any monies that are donated go to purchase special gifts, like a hair-dryer for a 16-year-old girl.

This is his busy season. “You just don’t give up, you keep going and going and going,” says this Marine.