How to Prevent Charity Betrayal

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Donations and charitable giving are important to so many people. We budget for it, we plan for it, and we spring for it, when a need seems sudden, urgent, and dire. We also fully expect a charitable organization to follow through when we say how to use our money.

This isn't always what happens, though. When a charity designates donations for something other than the donors' preferences, the donors tend to get angry — and vengeful. That's according to new research from Washington State University, which found that if a nonprofit used donations for a cause other than that which donors had given to specifically, donors felt a sense of betrayal, no matter how worthy the alternate cause was.

"This wasn't fraud or embezzlement — the donor's money was still being used for good," said author Jeff Joireman. "But because the expectations were so high, they were upset when their donation was redirected." One high-profile instance is the 2005 gift of half a million dollars to an Oklahoma hospital by country singer Garth Brooks, who won a lawsuit in 2012 after the hospital declined to use the money for a women's center.

Development professionals often implore potential donors to just give money, instead of donating volunteer hours. If you're particular about how your donations get used, it may be worth talking directly to an employee at the charity, or researching the charity on a watchdog website like Charity Navigator, GiveWell, and the stringent CharityWatch. This is already way better than donating at a checkout counter (corporations use those as customer-funded tax write-offs), but if money is out of the question altogether, consider in-kind donations.