Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Charity Wednesday: Pay Attention to a Critic's Own Bias

When scanning through my Google Alerts for charity scams, this story by the St. Louis Dispatch caught my attention.  It seems that Mother's Against Drunk Driving (aka MADD), a BBB accredited charity, has gotten some flack lately from the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a lobbying organization that supports the interests of restaurants and bars that serve alcohol. 

Like many charities, the economy has been hard on the MADD's fundraising efforts.  It appears that the ratio of what they spend on programs to what they earn through fundraising may be down slightly.  Jumping on this information, ABI is warning potential donors about the pitfalls of donating to MADD.

But is ABI a benevolent champion of curbing drunk driving simply urging concerned citizens not to donate to an ineffective charity, or are they exaggerating facts to try to silence an organization they see as a threat to their members? You make your own decision.  I'll just say that I follow the logic of Slate Magazine's William Saletan  when, in a similar piece, he notes "If MADD were truly ineffective, ABI would be happy to let MADD's donors go on wasting their money. ABI is trying to defund MADD not because MADD diverts money from drunken-driving crackdowns, but because MADD spends money on drunken-driving crackdowns."

ABI is a very vocal opponent of alcohol-detectors in cars.  MADD, in its efforts to ensure that intoxicated persons do not operate what my mother calls "lethal weapons on wheels"  is a strong proponent of the development of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS).  ABI perceives that the businesses it represents would stand to loose money if such a system were routinely installed in vehicles.  It's easy to connect the dots and see why they'll jump on any news that will keep MADD from succeeding.

I'm not an unbiased reporter of this information.  As a mother, I know that the most dangerous place for my kids is my minivan - no matter how much I spent on their car seats.  And a dear family friend had a son who should be in his early 30's, but because of a drunk driver will be forever six years old. 

But this story is a good lesson on not taking criticism at face value.  Everyone has an agenda.  In our relationships with charities, its good to know where our favorite organizations stand with supporters and detractors.  And why.  

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