Thursday, May 12, 2011

"And the Whole World Collapsed"

In my last post, while (gracelessly) complaining about the way some nonprofit organizations try to drum up support in my neighborhood, I mentioned that before I contribute to a particular organization, I like to do research on it and seek outside opinions. At the end of this post, I explain *how* I do that, and give links to help you if you want to do the same thing.

But first, over at her blog There's a Botticelli Angel Inside, Snapping Beans, Rebecca Rabinowitz is trying to get some straight answers about the difference between the UK text of Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass and the American text. If you're knowledgeable on this subject, please head on over and enlighten us.

Trigger warning: the next three paragraphs are about a documentary I just saw on the subject of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the spectacular denial of Church officials. I will be brief and non-explicit, but that is the topic at hand, up until the bold Researching Nonprofits title.

Deliver Us From Evil (2006), by filmmaker Amy Berg, tells the true story of pedophile Father Oliver O'Grady, who molested, abused, and raped over twenty children while serving as a priest in several parishes in northern California from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It also exposes just a few of the many priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes who treated, and still treat, this kind of abuse as a PR problem rather than a criminal outrage with victims who are left traumatized, alone, lost, and betrayed. Here is a quote from Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer and historian (and a decent man): "It's futile to ask the question, 'How can this [cover up] be? Why does this happen?' The system -- the monarchical, hierarchical governmental system that the people in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, from the Pope on down, firmly believed was willed by Almighty God -- is the reason why Roger Mahony [the Archbishop of Los Angeles at the time of the O'Grady cover up] is believed to be substantially more important and better than the children who were ravaged by Oliver O'Grady."

The title of my post is a quote spoken by the father of one of the victims while describing the conversation he had with his daughter in which she admitted, finally, after decades, that the priest he'd invited into their house had molested and raped her for seven years. This documentary wasn't easy to watch, but I strongly recommend it.

The one thing I felt was lacking was a list of organizations that support the victims of this kind of abuse; I wanted to know if there was some way I could help, and somewhere to point interested readers; but it didn't take much googling to uncover some possibilities. One is SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. From their website: "We are the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). We are an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials. We are also a non-profit, certified 501 (c) (3) organization." And SNAP gave me a list of links to lots of other organizations -- check them out, if you like. Those links of course, lead to other links, all of which got me thinking that maybe I should explain the way I choose which organizations, out of the gazillions, to support -- in case it would be helpful to any of my readers trying to navigate the same terrain!

Researching Nonprofits

So. Not all charities are efficient, consistent, or transparent, and some, on occasion, are even dishonest or unethical. I just feel like it's good sense to look into a nonprofit, any nonprofit, even the big, famous ones, before donating. Usually what I do is try to learn as much as I can *about* the org, reading its website and maybe asking friends, so that I'm not surprised later to learn that I disagree with some of its positions or practices. But then I take it one step further than that -- I open up the websites for a few of the charity watchdogs out there and see if I can learn more.

Do you know about charity watchdogs? They're independent orgs that keep an eye on charitable, nonprofit organizations, study them, rate them, and provide reports about them for consumers. If you google the term "charity watchdog," you'll come up with sites like The American Institute of Philanthropy's, Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. (Disclaimer: I think these are all for USA charities only -- non-USAians might have to do some more creative searching!) If you're lucky, one of the watchdogs will yield some sort of report on the charitable organization you're wondering about. All you'll have to do is type the charity's name into the box, hit enter, and follow the site's guidelines for how to interpret the results. If you're less lucky, your organization will be one of the MANY organizations none of the big watchdogs have gotten to yet, and you'll have to do some more intensive research. Luckily, Charity Navigator has a page with some clear and helpful instructions and tools for pulling up your nonprofit's public tax return and analyzing it yourself. That probably sounds like an APPALLING activity, but I just used their tools/instructions to take a closer look at SNAP, and not only was it pretty straightforward, it was kind of interesting! Did you know that 501 (c) (3) organizations are required to report how much their CEOs get paid? Tax returns that aren't yours can be a little bit fascinating.

Having done my research, I now feel good about donations to SNAP. I am not in love with some things about their website -- links that unexpectedly download files when you click on them are not cool, and why can't I find a schedule for the upcoming national conference? But overall, I feel good about the work they're doing!

That's the news.