The hits just keep on coming

Charity Intelligence has had pretty a good week.  On Tuesday, November 15th, the most widely read newspaper in the country, the Toronto Star (average weekday circulation of 436,694) printed what looked like a verbatim Charity Intelligence press release referring to the launch of its “first-of-its-kind search engine to help Canadians decide where to donate.” (Are the CRA’s ears burning wonders Your Working Girl.)
In the article, Audit of charities encounters resistance  Charity Intelligence offers up the names of 19 out of 100 organizations they looked at who “refused to make their financial statements public”, the 14 charities with the highest cost of fundraising and the 25 organizations with the biggest reserve funds.  Now please understand Your Working Girl.  She is as ticked off as anyone that the Hospital for Sick Children Foundation sits on more than half a billion dollars in assets while children with autism go untreated in this city or that thousands of children sit on never ending waiting lists for mental health services.  And she believes the Foundation needs to answer the question is it an investment fund or a charity? 
But the increasing prominence of a small, unaccountable group, the space they’re taking up as the go-to guys for a response on a charity story (made possible because charities refuse to pick up the phone) and their increasing ability to set the agenda on the charity debate is a pebble in Your Working Girl’s shoe.
Charity Intelligence was launched in 2006 by equity analyst Kate Behan.   And we’ve been hearing intermittent bleats from them for the past 18 months.  The bleats have now graduated into a dull roar and their website hints at their approach, “Just as a financial analyst researches potential stocks to find the best investment opportunities, [Charity Intelligence] uses similar research methods to find exceptional charities for donors.”
Most of their small board is made up investment advisors and CFAs .  Brookfield Asset Management is represented as is Thornmark Asset Management and gold-mining company, Rainy River Resources. One of their directors, Peter Crowley is the Senior VP, Operations & Director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank that has been described as “conservative” and “right-wing libertarian”.  The Institute is opposed to gun control legislation and has seen its share of controversy.  They were criticized by health professionals in 1999 because of their affiliation with organizations trying to de-bunk the link between smoking and cancer.  They have also been accused of undercutting public schooling through its school ranking program.  They criticize climate change science and offer educational material that encourages children to be skeptical of mainstream science.
Armed with a brand new website and a whole lot of attitude, Charity Intelligence’s recent ascent as the media darling of charitable sector commentary seemed to be cemented when the Globe and Mail (circulation 374,000 on Saturdays) featured a half page article as part of its series on philanthropy referring to Charity Intelligence as “an organization [that] attempts to help charitable donors by researching and report on which charities use their donations most effectively” and included a large picture of their director of research Greg Thomson.  
Michael  Enright’s national radio show, Sunday Edition also featured Charity Intelligence prominently this week in a feature called Faith, Hope and Charities, a special examination of the economics of cancer – how the money is collected and how it is spent.”
The 45-minute segment featured Karen Greve-Young whose day job is Director of Strategic Initiatives at MaRS Discovery Centre.  But she wasn’t there on behalf of MaRS.  She was representing Charity Intelligence as an author of a report called on Cancer in Canada Phase One.   And, according to Ms Greve-Young, the best cancer charity to receive your donation is the one with the lowest administration costs.  Phase Two of the report will be naming those charities.
Three cancer charities were interviewed after Ms Greve-Young’s introduction.  The B.C./Yukon branch of the Canadian Cancer Society (which incidentally was named by Charity Intelligence as one of 14 groups with the highest cost of fundraising) was represented by CEO, Barbara Kaminsky, and Colorectal Cancer of Canada by President, Barry Stein; CEO Elizabeth Ross sat in for Ovarian Cancer of Canada.  
They did okay.  Barry Stein was particularly clear when he said, “this is a business of marketing.”  But, to put it bluntly, and with all due respect to Ms Kaminsky, Mr. Stein and Ms Ross, these three organizations are not the leaders of the organizations who are collecting and spending the hundreds of millions dollars going through the medical-industrial cancer care complex every year.  Where were those people? 
Charities will cry foul over Charity Intelligence.  But it’s precisely because charities have consistently erred on the side of arrogance and have stubbornly refused to – and continue to refuse to – answer for their activities that have given people like those inside Charity Intelligence the opening they need to advocate for re-making the charitable sector.  (And not in a nice way.)  

Nature abhors a vacuum.  So does leadership and communications.  If you’re not filling it, someone else will.   (And not in a nice way.)

In her lecture, Shooting ourselves in the foot, at AFP’s upcoming congress, Your Working Girl will be speaking more on this issue on November 28th at 2:00.  If you are attending the conference, pop by.  She would love to see you. 

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  1. YES! Are you and I the only people seeing this?? Genius work on behalf of CI. They saw a gigantic chasm and filled it with themselves and branded them as THE watchdog, without any input from us being watched!Looking forward to your session next week.Trevor Zimmer

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