Article Highlights Cost-Effective Charities

Yearsago, after speaking at a local Catholic high school on the students’duty to give intelligently when they donate to charity, a studentgrabbed my arm en route to lunch of grilled cheese s

Feb 22, 2012 at 12:09 am

Years ago, after speaking at a local Catholic high school on the students’ duty to give intelligently when they donate to charity, a student grabbed my arm en route to lunch of grilled cheese sandwich and cream of tomato soup. 

“How do I know I ain’t going to get Jew’ed,” he asked of charities in general.

I repeated what I said in his class, that it takes homework to find out how much money is spent on programs and how much is spent on fundraising, and I added, “By the way, I’m Jewish.”

To his credit, the kid apologized. To his further credit, the next time I spoke at his school, he sought me out, reminded me of our conversation, and explained how he’d researched and donated to a local charity as a birthday gift honoring his mother, a “two-fer” that I’d recommended. 

I was reminded of that exchange by an important article in the February issue of Christianity Today, an evangelical Protestant publication I have valued and enjoyed for decades.

The article is “Cost-Effective Compassion” by Bruce Wydick, an economist at the University of San Francisco. He polled development economists whom he considers to be tops in their field. They all specialize in analyzing development programs to alleviate poverty abroad.

Sixteen responded. Most are academics. One is from the World Bank. Five are members of the Association of Christian Economists. 

Their choices and judgments are fascinating. Over the years, I’ve encountered well-intended Americans who go abroad on short- and long-term missions to teach in village schools, promote literacy, show the “natives” how to make bricks, or introduce simple systems to purify drinking water. Some were in the Peace Corps, others religiously motivated and sponsored. I’ve always wondered if there were more effective ways of investing their money, generosity and energies in these same impoverished communities. 

I also met missionaries whose anti-poverty/development projects were nonsense or whose idea of helping was to pile a bunch of Americans on a chartered jetliner and go somewhere to do good for a week.

The Christianity Today article suggests my bang-for-the-buck questions aren’t misplaced. 

Wydick reports his colleagues’ ranking of 10 common poverty interventions for cost effectiveness. Most, if not all, will be familiar to readers and recipients of fundraising appeals. None scored a perfect 10. Wydick also names a few charities that pursue each of the listed interventions. Those that are faith-based get a little cross by their names. 

I’ve worked abroad and argued for some of these same approaches. I’m glad that some of my favorites are among those most highly rated by Wydick’s respondents. I’m sorry that they think so poorly of others that always appealed to me, but having read their reasoning, I concede the point.

We give lots of money to charities. Uncritical local and national media promote many of them on the assumption they are virtuous and effective. They might be, but as I explained to that young high school student, there is a responsibility to give wisely. This report in Christianity Today is the best thing I’ve read on anti-poverty efforts in a long time. All have value.

Here they are in descending order of cost effectiveness:

• Provide clean water to rural villages. 

• Fund de-worming programs for children. 

• Provide mosquito nets.

• Sponsor a child. 

• Give modern, effective wood-burning stoves. 

• Give a microfinance loan.

• Fund reparative surgeries. 

• Donate a farm animal.

• Drink fair-trade coffee. 

• Give a kid a laptop.

Each is accompanied by Wydick’s praise and/or cautions. Clean water could cut infant deaths by 30-50 percent at $10 per child annually.

Intestinal worms afflict billions and effective medicines are cheap, even if repeated doses are required where bare feet make youngsters vulnerable.

Modern stoves reduce deforestation and deaths from indoor smoke.

But charities that ask donors to sponsor a child might spend monthly payments on projects in the child’s village. There is no assurance a family getting a farm animal will know how to care for it or the critter might go to someone who already has a flock or herd. Coffee farmers face overproduction problems and costs of joining the fair trade system. Life-changing surgery would rank much higher but for its cost. 

In today’s tsunami of appeals, this Christianity Today article is clear, credible and as personal as our next cup of coffee. Too little journalism meets that standard. 


• A friend and former Enquirer colleague, Dave Beasley, died recently. Justly generous obituary comments missed a point: His example helped mentor a generation of future editors. Many of his years at the paper were spent copy editing. That’s a vanishing skill in which talented men and women make reporters look better in print. They also keep reporters from embarrassing themselves with mistakes that should never have happened. To do that, Dave, other copy editors and their successors caught errors of information and grammar, misspellings and potential libels. They were anonymous but knew readers benefited every time they opened the Enquirer

The Enquirer promises at least $250,000 in cash or support-in-kind to the 2012 World Choir Games here. Meanwhile, the paper is shedding dozens more staffers, most of them from the newsroom, to support its profits. Can you imagine the joy among survivors to learn that the paper gave that much cash at the expense of departing colleagues? If it’s in-kind rather than cash, that means free ads or publicity posing as news. 

Big headlines and photos attract eyeballs. A great photo or video can lift the most mundane story to prominence. I’ve benefited from the best work by Enquirer photographers and editors who shared my enthusiasm for their images. The Feb. 12 Forum cover was an example of this. The oversize headline was “Where Do They Stand?” The dominating photo showed the four GOP contenders standing as a group. Anyone who followed the accompanying story to the back page of the Forum section benefited from a summary of each man’s proposals on major issues. It’s the kind of effort that only a daily paper can produce. 

But why, why did the Enquirer run its Sunday Forum summary of GOP aspirants’ policies (above) weeks before the March 6 Ohio Republican primary?  

With so few households subscribing to the Enquirer and most Tristate residents getting what they think is news from broadcast and cable TV, I’m almost ready for polling place screening before citizens get a ballot. Instead of a government-issued photo ID, I’d want at least a minimal knowledge of why they’re there. For Republican primary voters, I’d require them to know “What governor is credited with creating Romneycare?” Failing that exam,  I’d send them to the Board of Elections to reregister as Democrats. 

• Poynter Institute’s newest MediaWire writer, Andrew Beaujon, says good things about Cincinnati Magazine’s story on the nut job in Zanesville who released dangerous, wild animals and then killed himself. If you can get past Beaujon’s cutesy, gossipy look at Zanesville stories in GQ and Esquire, he suggests that anyone buying movie rights also “snap up” Jonah Ogles’ Cincinnati Magazine story. Ogles initiative — a classic of savvy investment of time and energy — is old fashion journalism. 

Yes, social media and the internet aided and abetted Planned Parenthood’s successful counterattack after Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation embraced GOP anti-abortion politics and withheld promised funds for breast cancer screening. It forced Komen to reverse that decision but it’s getting more interesting. Komen partisans are complaining that Planned Parenthood “bullied” them into submission. Pathetic. When Komen manipulates the news media with its fundraising events, women’s fears and American male fixation on breasts, that’s good. When Planned Parenthood complains about Komen reneging on breast cancer screening, that’s bullying. 

It doesn’t end there. Komen is finding new reasons to regret its impolitic actions. Some Komen executives,  former officials and donors reportedly are  questioning foundation executive salaries, expenditures and other aspects of the financial enterprise.  In the good old days, the news media would have done that, if only because Komen is/was so big and successful and its boss held a fulltime federal job for years while billing the foundation for expenses.  

On the other hand, most news media are deferential boosters until someone else questions any popular charity. After all, how many stories have you seen suggesting that the almost $2 billion raised by Komen would have saved many more women’s lives if it had been spent on preventing heart disease? But, as I’ve written before, there never would have been a second issue of Playboy if it had been dedicated to the female heart. 

Rupert Murdoch’s downmarket tastes have tainted the New York Times. The best-selling daily London Sun long has had photos of young, busty and topless “Page 3” girls. Last week, the NYTimes caught up in its own fashion, running a very, very large photo of a pretty, busty and barely constrained Kate Upton . . . on Page 3. The conceit? Her story began on Page 1 with the news that she’d created her own viral buzz and landed the coveted cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. Of course, it was about new media. That’s why her bikini photo was on Page 3. The much, much smaller image on Page 1 showed no skin between neck and knee. But the new media angle gave the Grey Lady a chance to offer readers some eye candy that political correctness and newsroom career aspirations otherwise would have forbidden. 

That said, the Times story about swimsuit model Kate Upton (above) reverts to true Timesman style: snark about anyone who is “not our kind of people.” Many of the men and women quoted explain why Upton wouldn’t walk their catwalks or be a Victoria’s Secret Angel: too up front and out there.  In short, she lacks the class of sleek and curvy supermodels or the endless wealthy young fashionistas who  attend fashion shows and the Times photographs as cultural icons. 

A perfect example of the Times kind of people (above) was the restrained coverage of Gisele Bundchen’s F-bomb outburst after her husband, Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, and his team lost the Superbowl. Bundchen is reportedly the richest supermodel and the face and embodiment of many of the classiest women’s clothes and accessories. And she’s no Size 0 stick. Under a tender photo of Bundchen and Brady nuzzling after the game, the Times said this: “Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s wife, was critical of the Patriots’ receivers in remarks captured immediately after the Super Bowl. She made them after being heckled by a Giants fan.” Oh, the taste, the discretion. Anything more explicit was news unfit to print. Not even a suggestion that she used a common vulgar synonym for heterosexual intercourse. was less restrained:  “Gisele did not take the latest loss in stride. She was caught on video responding to taunts from Giants fans: ‘You [have] to catch the ball when you’re supposed to catch the ball. My husband cannot fucking throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can’t believe they dropped the ball so many times’.”

In the evolving world of social media and reporting, the British satellite network, Sky News, is issuing clear guidelines.  The London Guardian says Sky told its journalists not to repost information from Twitter users who are not Sky employees of the broadcaster and that includes tweets by rival "journalists or people on Twitter." 

Sky also told its journalists "stick to your own beat" and not to tweet about non-work subjects from their professional accounts. "So, to reiterate, don't tweet when it is not a story to which you have been assigned or a beat which you work. Where a story has been Tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff. Do not retweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter. Such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process."

Sky knows what it’s talking about. The Guardian says Sky News has cultivated a reputation for digital innovation and has used Twitter to break news on events including the Arab Spring uprising and England riots. Then, according to the Guardian, Sky added what must be a common lament as traditional news media try to use evolving news media. It’s a problem that’s hardly limited to satellite TV. The Guardian says Sky explained the new policy "to ensure that our journalism is joined up across platforms, there is sufficient editorial control of stories reported by Sky News journalists and that the news desks remain the central hub for information going out on all our stories." 

Sky said that "on a number of occasions" those guidelines have been flouted "resulting in us running different information on Twitter other Sky platforms or the news desks learning from Twitter details that should have been first passed on to them." Very little will drive editors to fury faster than being the last to know what’s on their Twitter, Facebook, news programs, websites, etc. 

• reports a truly stupid cops v. cameras encounter. Baltimore police issued a directive telling its 3,100 officers that they cannot stop people from photographing or videotaping them and need a warrant to seize cameras without permission from the owner. Hours later, “new video showed officers threatening to arrest a mannear Cross Street Market in Federal Hill for taping an arrest.” says officers still may “move people away from scenes if they are disruptive, disorderly, loitering, or hindering officers from their duties. The loitering statute is what officers in the Cross Street Market video use to tell the cameraman to leave the area. Maryland appellate courts define loitering as ‘to stand around in a public place and engage in conduct prohibited under this law.’ Photographing police is not against the law. Therefore, it could be argued, he was not loitering.”

It goes on. also says a separate “federal civil trial is to continue in a case in which a man said police seized his camera and erased pictures he took of an arrest at the 2010 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. A federal judge this week denied a motion by city attorneys to throw out the suit. In that case, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is urging the judge to side with the cameraman.”

• A sense of history is missing from coverage of the Obama/Catholic bishops contest over health insurance and artificial contraception. Paul VI reaffirmed  traditional Roman Catholic opposition to artificial contraception in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. He acted although some members of his special advisory commission reportedly asked him to consider approving some kinds of contraception for married couples.

New York Times added a much-needed context to GOP hearings on Obama’s health insurance plan and birth control concessions. It quoted Orthodox Jewish and Missouri Synod Lutheran representatives in addition to  Roman Catholic bishops and evangelical Protestant critics. 

•  Other than Republican faith that American women obey their clergy bans on artificial contraception, the only belly laugh I’ve had in the debate over Obama’s health insurance/birth control policy came from the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd: “What’s wrong with the rhythm method anyway? That’s how I got here.”

• There’s a media relations message in Egyptian plans to prosecute Americans and others involved in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) promoting democracy. If you’re going to be arrested where rule of law is uncertain, be sure to be arrested with the son of an American cabinet member. Ray LaHood is a Republican and Obama’s transportation secretary. His son, Sam, is among the 43 foreigners to be tried by Egyptian military authorities.   Sam runs the Cairo office of the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Egypt. BBC says Egypt's ruling military council accuses the foreigners of funding street protests against its post-Mubarak rule. BBC quoted the elder LaHood, saying, "These NGOs have been working for years in democracy-building efforts, and they thought they were well within their right to do it. So it's a little bit puzzling to many people what's happening there." BBC said at least 17 NGO offices in Egypt, including IRI, were raided in last December.