When you decide to make a charitable contribution, you want to make sure as much of your money as possible is going to the right place and being used to actually support whatever it is you’re trying to support.
But while we’ve warned you about flat-out scams relating to charity donations, there’s another element to watch out for: Online buttons that don’t don’t actually contribute a damn thing to the cause.
Take Change.org’s “chip in” feature, for example. Usually, when you start a petition on the platform—which is a for-profit company, by the way—signers see a button asking if they want to chip in to help promote the petition to get more traction and generate more signatures for that cause.
When a petition was launched to demand that the police officers who killed George Floyd be charged for their actions, it got more than 17 million signatures. And as you can imagine, a considerable portion of those 17 million people chipped in—more than half a million, according to The Verge.
While the call-out box on the petition page made it clear that funds would go not directly to the cause but only toward the promotion of the petition, a growing group of former Change.org employees says it’s misleading and harmful to ask for money that way.
“Change.org is siphoning resources away from organisations that are accountable to black people and equipped to do deeper, long-term, community-based organising for black lives and liberation,” the open letter to Change.org leadership says. In fact, the letter argues that since Change.org is a for-profit corporation, it’s “profiting from the death of black people.”
Since the open letter was published on Medium, Change.org has disabled the chip-in feature on some of the site’s most popular petitions.
When it comes down to it, Change.org can do whatever it wants with any money it raises through its site, and it’s not obligated to be transparent about how much money is collected or how it gets spent.
That’s why it’s as important as ever to double-check the details before you contribute money to a cause you care about. Search for organisations on Charity Navigator, Givewell or Guidestar before deciding to donate; in the case of GoFundMe-type campaigns and informal fundraising efforts, read up on the organisers and their plans for using contributions. We have a list of options for donating to racial justice efforts, if you’re looking for a place to start.
“Chipping in” to promote a petition or other cause isn’t necessarily bad. But not having all the details you need to make the right decision for you is. If you’re not clear on where your dollars will go, take the time to ask, so you can contribute confidently.