One day, you are a small charity with annual revenues of $ 7 million. The next day, you sit on a mountain of donations of $ 25 million, thanks to a Facebook call turned viral. But can a little charity like this face such a deluge of gifts?
This is the challenge for RAICES, a Texas charity that provides pro bono legal support to migrants. The tiny organization – a lost network of about fifty lawyers – has never raised or controlled as much money. The success came when a young Californian couple – Charlotte and Dave Willner – launched a Facebook call, asking people to donate to RAICES, so that the organization could reunite the migrants with their children, after that they were detained and separated by US officials. implement the "zero tolerance" policy of President Donald Trump.
Fundraising via social media is not new. it only takes a few clicks to make a donation. Find a cause, make a call, and if you manage to outrage, upset and touch people, they give money. It's definitely worth clicking on "I love" or selecting the "angry" emoji. In this case, Willner's fundraising page for RAICES found his way, fueled by the blanket of families separated brutally at the US-Mexico border, with crying babies, toddlers, and older children torn from their homes. desperate parents.
The appeal became viral and, in less than a week, donations from around the world have erased the original goal of $ 1,500 and far exceeded $ 20 million. But what is the next step for RAICES? And can those who donate money be sure that a small charity will be able to spend the money in a targeted, timely and responsible way?
RAICES says that he will use the money to help provide legal representation to immigrant families. "The fundraiser is a resounding statement from thousands of people across the country that it's not normal what's happening at the border and that they want to join us in retaliating," Jennifer explains. Hixon, Director of RAICES Development. The organization has been doing the work for over 30 years, she adds – and this time again she wants to do it right.
While charities routinely treat donations of various amounts, "it is obviously much more difficult for a small non-profit organization to absorb an unexpected amount of funding without having to reallocate to partner organizations or organizations. to allocate resources over several years ". Dresslar of another – much larger – American charity, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Managing such a sum "can be a strategic and operational challenge for a non-profit organization," recognizes Jackie Fekeci of GuideStar, an organization that evaluates the effectiveness of charities, especially when there is has a pressure to spend money quickly. There is an urgent need, after all – children are being held, many parents have already been deported. "There is a good chance that their donors will ask them to spend it immediately." A very transparent non-profit organization on how they plan to spend or save money is thoughtful and responsible, "Fekeci says. 19659003] The time has become even more critical now that an attempt to find a legal compromise in Congress has failed.On earlier this week, a federal judge ordered the US government to reunite all families within 30 days, but Trump administration is likely to appeal this decision.
There is a precedent of what should happen when a good cause is overwhelmed by donations.  On December 4, 1951, a two-storey bus outside Chatham Dockyard, Kent, accidentally plowed into a large group of children aged nine to thirteen and all members of one corps of cadets of the Royal Navy, 24 people died. An appeal raised far more donations than was required to cover commemorative and other expenses and in a famous court decision, guidelines were established as to what should be done with the surplus.
"The same thing happens often – but with much greater excesses – when a call captures the public's imagination on social networks, as with RAICES," says Tom Murdoch, a partner at Stone King, a specialist in charity right. "Provided that the purpose of the initial appeal is charitable, legal powers exist to" save "the money raised for similar charitable purposes – so there is no need to repay the donors. Instead, he says, families in the same conditions as the original RAICES families, even though this may distort the plans of small charities and be very disruptive.
In most countries, charities are regulated. In England and Wales, where there are about 170,000 registered charities, the regulator, the Charity Commission and others discuss each year the need to consolidate and merge to make more efficient use of the funds of the charities. donors, explains Murdoch.
In the United States, charities must file Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, which details their income and expenses and follows generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The level of regulation, however, is limited by the size of the IRS and the roles and responsibilities of the agency, says Larry Lieberman, COO of Charity Navigator, another charity appraiser.
Charity Navigator and GuideStar evaluate US charities for factors such as financial health. If a charity is not rated, donors can at least check Form 990 to understand where their money is going. "Unfortunately, there is not a significant level of regulation on how charities operate financially, falling to the IRS to check which organizations they consider suspicious," Lieberman says. .
Nonprofits often organize their own fundraisers. But in the modern digital age, fundraising on social media is often more effective, says Murdoch – but can also count on the activism of people like the Willner family and their social networks. "Perhaps it is doubtful that an identical campaign launched by American equivalents of charities such as Migrant Rights Network or Joint Committee on Immigrant Welfare would have been so successful," he says. "Sometimes it's the personal touch that matters to donors."
The effect of peers definitely makes a big difference online: "People are excited to see their gifts coincide with their friends" says Lauren Davitt of UNICEF USA. "They realize that even though their $ 10 may not seem like a lot, collectively they can really make a difference and change the lives of kids."
Whereas Facebook was recently discouraged by data leaks, Mark Zuckerberg having to fend off Beyond the catchy questions at home and in Europe, the virality of Willners' fundraiser may seem a surprise. Fekeci, however, says that Facebook has worked hard "to make sure donations go to legitimate nonprofits … to organizations that file with the government.These filings are public information and people freely make the choice to give. "
How to Spot Charity Scams Online
- Check Charities
- Be sure to donate to a registered charity with a registered charity number behind the call. -charities, like the Willner family behind RAICES, can make calls, but without a charity registration you support at your own risk.
- Do some research
- Make sure the non-profit organization is clear and transparent, and check the charity appraisers to look for the charity involved.
- Check who is behind the page
- In the United States, be sure to give a gold 501 (c) (3) organization verified, if the campaign must benefit a nonprofit work on behalf of a specific problem. If you are giving to a person, we recommend you check if the person who is raising funds is someone you know or someone that a friend knows about.
The danger is that people do not read the fine print or take the time to understand, says Murdoch. "There is also a danger that vulnerable people, sensitive users or users with access to other online payment methods will be fooled or neglected." In the UK, however, there are fairly strict rules, such as a new fundraising regulator. He added.
In the end, however, how can you make sure that a fundraising page is not a scam? Donate with "your heart and your head", says Fekeci – "give to a cause that is important to you, but also take the time to make sure that it is legitimate".
And at the end of the day, RAICES being a small charity does not mean by itself that he can not spend the money wisely, says Fekeci. "There are large organizations that are extremely effective and there are small organizations that are extremely effective."