Saturday September 3rd, 2005 informationliberation.com
Top Salvation Army Commissioner salary: $13,000 per year plus housing -- President of the United Way: $375,000 base salary plus benefits -- Red Cross President: $450,000 plus benefits. (Tom Barrett)
Christmas is the time of the year when we give the most to charity. Perhaps it is because it is a joyful season, and our hearts are open. Perhaps it is because as we look back over the year about to end, we realize how richly God has blessed us. Perhaps the reason is something as pragmatic as tax deductions. Whatever our motivation, it is essential, more than ever, that we be able to trust the charity to which we give our hard-earned dollars.

If we have learned anything since 9/11 regarding charities, it is “Giver, beware!” Hundreds of new charities sprang up in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Many, if not most, were scams. Movie stars and musicians lent their names and support to fund-raising activities and events, only to find that the money raised did not go where the givers intended it to go.

Even the “Super Charities,” the United Way and the Red Cross had reason to hang their heads in shame. The Red Cross did a much better job of getting donated money to victims than did the United Way. The United Way withheld donations from victims of the disasters for months, finally yielding to public pressure. But both organizations raised money in the name of the disaster victims, and then diverted them to other purposes. And both organizations were exposed for paying huge executive salaries.

One charity has stayed above all this for 137 years. The Salvation Army is unique among all U.S. charities for many reasons. Let’s start at the top. Commissioner Todd Bassett receives a salary just $13,000 per year (plus housing) for managing this $2 Billion dollar organization. By comparison, Brian Gallagher, President of the United Way receives a $375,000 base salary (plus numerous expensive benefits) and the Red Cross President Marsha Evans receives $450,000 plus benefits.

Since the Salvation Army pays its leader only about 3% of what the other big charities pay, one might expect that it would be less efficient than the other charities. Not according to the experts. The Army’s website (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/) contains the following evaluation by one of the nation’s most trusted management experts, Professor Peter Drucker:

“Identified by author and management expert Dr. Peter Drucker as ‘by far the most effective organization in the United States,’ The Salvation Army invests the charitable gifts it receives in the lives of men and women and boys and girls. ‘No one even comes close to it in respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication and putting money to maximum use,’ Drucker said. (Forbes, August 11, 1997).”

In stark contrast to the scandals generated by other charities in the aftermath of 9/11, the Salvation Army went about quietly ministering to the victims of the terrorist attacks, as well as the rescuers and other volunteers. According to an article about the Salvation Army in the December issue of Reader’s Digest, “With a half-hour of the terrorist attacks, 200 officers in their epaulet jackets and blue caps started scrambling to Ground Zero, soon assisted by 5,000 more volunteers.” The Army commandeered 24 buildings from which to receive and distribute tons of relief supplies. Disaster experts consider the Salvation Army’s work in Manhattan and Washington, DC, to be the most effective of any of the relief organizations involved.

More than 20% of U.S. charities spend over 40% of the money they receive on administrative costs. In other words, only 60 cents of every dollar you donate to these charities is used for the intended charitable purpose. The rest goes to overhead, which in many cases includes unconscionable executive salaries. By contrast, 83 cents of every dollar you throw into one of the Salvation Army’s red Christmas kettles goes directly to helping people in need.

In addition to its well-known mission of providing food and shelter to the needy, the Salvation Army serves children through its boys and girls centers, helps alcoholics and drug addicts find freedom, and ministers to people in nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons. It is every bit as active as the Red Cross in disaster relief. In fact, the Army has provided assistance at every U.S. disaster since the Galveston hurricane in 1900. Over all, they served over 38 million people last year.

Why does this charity stand head and shoulders above all other U.S. charities? Perhaps it is the fact that it is not actually a charity. The Salvation Army is in reality an evangelical Protestant Church. Their more than 9,000 centers across our nation contain sanctuaries where officers (who are all ordained ministers) conduct Sunday services. Their religious affiliation contributes to their incredible efficiency as a charity in several ways:

** Members of their local churches give to support their local centers. This reduces overhead and makes the charitable donations go further.

** Army officers consider themselves missionaries, and are in fact paid less than many foreign missionaries. Their real compensation is the knowledge that they are doing God’s work in this world. The fact that they are willing to serve for so little means that several workers can be supported by the dollars that other organizations would pay to one person.

** Hundreds of thousands of volunteers, with the same motivations as the officers, serve with no pay. In many cases, they pay their own expenses for food and travel so that donated funds can be used to help the needy.

The bottom line is that the Salvation Army is so effective because the officers and volunteers don’t look at what they do as a job. They are shepherds caring for the flock. They do what they do not for a paycheck, but because of their love for God and for the people they serve.

I hope that as you shop this year you will think of this article every time you see one of the Salvation Army’s distinctive red kettles. I hope you will remember the good work this wonderful organization has done for more than a century. I hope that you will realize that there are very good reasons that this is one of the most trusted organizations of its kind in the world. And I hope that you will toss a buck in the pot. Or a five. Or a ten. Or a twenty. Check your wallet carefully. Maybe there’s a fifty or a hundred dollar bill in there!