Way to politicize charity

It happens occasionally, but none more so than by inviting a Presidential contender to speak on your behalf. Teen Challenge USA is bringingSarah Palin to Missoula on September 12. Tickets are $100 per person.

I don’t know much about Teen Challenge, but I don’t see publicizing and endorsing politicians in their mission statement:

To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society.

For the Missoula program, it costs $1500 a month per student to provide a residential drug-rehabilitation program for women. I’m not sure if that is the best way to help folks with their addictions, but it seems like an admirable alternative to incarceration.

It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of any charity, but Charity Navigator gives one of the chapters of Teen Challenge their lowest rating. It seems that the Midlands group spends nearly 30% of their income on administration and a bit less than 20% on fundraising expenses, leaving only 54% for drug rehabilitation programs. Admittedly, other chapters do better but I have to wonder what sort of oversight the national office has on the hundred or more regional centers.

Skylar Browning at the Missoula Independent asks the same question – mulling over whether Teen Challenge PNW Missoula will even make a profit on the Palin talk. If Palin typically charges up to $100,000 per talk and there are other expenses involved like hiring security guards, booking the Hilton, providing food, etc., then you have to wonder how 1,600 tickets at $100 will cover the costs. Maybe other groups are helping, but it isn’t clear.

What is obvious is that this is a very successful marketing ploy by Teen Challenge. They’ve brought attention to themselves, perhaps raising awareness that Missoula is one of the “drug capitals” of the nation(that should be great for attracting economic development to our town).

But, by bringing such a polarizing political figure they are risking the political message dominating the event. For instance, Jan Henderson, director of the treatment center here in Missoula, expressed admiration for Palin’s strength in “standing” up to media scrutiny of her life and politics. A classic Republican line, blaming the ‘liberal’ media for all that is wrong with this country.

It makes you wonder about Faith-based partnerships, doesn’t it? Here is one charity plainly aligning themselves with one side of the political divide and not the other. Perhaps they all do. And, maybe your faith-based charity is better than mine, but if your political benefactor gets elected then I’m sure yours will fare better than mine.

The real losers of this politicization of charity are probably the beneficiaries of those charities. Because I know a number of people who will now question how much of their donation is going to support politicians, as compared to really helping those in need.

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