Last month, The Boston Globe published what I described as "an excellent exposé" about professional athletes' charitable foundations. I wrote about the piece just briefly, mostly because it was so ridiculously easy to take a cheap (but well-earned) shot at Alex Rodriguez.
Akin to the sabermetrician who would argue that WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is the single comprehensive metric of a player’s total contribution to his team, nonprofit rating agency, Charity Navigator, cites seven financial performance metrics for measuring the financial health of a charitable organization. The Globe appears to have focused on one area, dividing program service expenses by gross revenue, to define whether a charity loses in supporting improving the health and well-being of children. As the brother of a childhood cancer survivor, it just doesn’t feel that simple.
As a data-driven individual who appreciates transparency and a balanced portrayal of information when forming an opinion, the unbalanced views of this article are not only strikingly unsettling but potentially damning. As an example, the graphic that the Globe uses to illustrate his findings invites scrutiny. If we can assume that what is being portrayed is that 54 percent of the sample size of 50 athlete charities disburse more than 61 percent of their annual revenues to cause, we are left with the question of how does this compare to the other 1.5 million actively reported nonprofit organizations in the United States. Further, 50 of 1.5 million seems like an insignificant cross-section. Of the 50 charities evaluated in the Globe research, it is also unclear what consideration was given to whether the charity was in its first years of existence and/or whether disbursements were being strategically pooled over a specific span to fund a more substantive project.
I'm sure he makes some good points here. But no investigative-reporting piece is ever going to be completely fair or comprehensive; there's always more that could be reported, more context that could be provided. It would be just wonderful if all 1.5 million nonprofits could be investigated and rated, with that information disseminated to anyone considering a donation. But we take what we can get, and it's good to know (for example) that only 37 percent of the money raised by the Josh Beckett Foundation actually helped kids. Because that money might have gone somewhere else; say, to Craig Breslow's foundation.
Again, Breslow does make some good points. But some information, at least in this case, was probably better than no information at all. And there are a lot of wealthy people in this world who prefer that the rest of us have no information at all. So kudos to the Globe for reporting the story, and kudos to Breslow for his thoughtful response. Everybody can do better next time.