Sploid.com noted something odd earlier today on the FEMA page which lists reputable disaster relief organizations for Katrina-related giving.
After the American Red Cross, which is listed first and, I guess, by common consent the primary domestic disaster relief organization, comes Operation Blessing.
And if you don't know, Operation<$Ad$> Blessing is the relief organization run by professional wingnut Pat Robertson.
After that on the list came America's Second Harvest.
And then below that, everyone else, in alphabetical order.
The apparent rationale for the two-tiered set up is that the first three are places to "Donate Cash" and the rest are to "Donate Cash and/or Volunteer". I'm not sure whether arranging them in that way makes a great deal of sense. But judge that for yourself.
Yet, apparently, someone pointed out that giving Operation Blessing higher billing than the reality-based alphabetical system might not look so good. So as of today Operation Blessing has been bumped down to #3.
Now, call me suspicious. But the whole two-tiered set up itself struck me as quite likely a strained way of giving Robertson the big disaster relief shout-out. But I have no way of knowing or proving that. Again, you judge for yourself.
Now, how legit is Operation Blessing? CharityNavigator.com, which rates charities, gives them four stars (their highest rating) across the board. They report giving fully 99.4% of their income to program expenses and trivial amounts to administration and fundraising.
On the other hand, Robertson has repeatedly been criticized for commingling his overseas charitable operations -- specifically, Operation Blessing -- with his personal for-profit ventures into precious metals and diamond extraction, particularly with some of your better-known human rights pariahs and genocidal dictators. Zaire's Mobutu with blood diamonds, Liberia's Charles Taylor with gold mines. He's well diversified.
So, on balance, you might say the picture is mixed.
In any case, looking over the list, one other thing occured to me. Beneath the big three, there are eighteen other organizations listed -- with a number of extremely respected organizations including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, B'nai B'rith and others. And the selection seems fairly ecumenical. But as nearly as I can tell, not one non-religious organization is listed. The one exception is another government agency, the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Now, I know as well as anyone the huge role that sectarian-affiliated charitable organizations play in disaster relief and other sorts of charitable work. I don't know the precise breakdown. But it wouldn't surprise me to learn that most or even the overwhelming amount of this kind of work is done by these groups. But surely there are some secular relief and aid organizations, right? Even a few that might have made the list?
Just by way of example, earlier today we were contacted by a group called MercyCorps. They asked if we would be willing to contribute ad space for Katrina-related disaster relief fundraising. And since I had wanted to do something like this, once we'd done some basic due diligence on their reputation in the field (which out to be very good), we were happy to oblige.
(Just to be clear, I don't think I knew anything about this group before today. They just got to us first, etc.)
Why isn't MercyCorps on the list? Surely, there are many other qualified groups that aren't tied to a religious denomination. Can this exclusion really be accidental?
(ed.note: The details noted above prompt me to mention a few more details about our ad policy. Our rates are the same for everyone. We do not give discounts to non-profits; nor do we give discounts or free ad space to advertisers, organizations or candidates we support or agree with. There is a firm division between the business and editorial sides of our operation. We also do not reject ads on the basis of political content (see details here). We made exceptions to the rule during last year's Asian Tsunami crisis, when we ran free ads for a few different groups, and now with Katrina because we believed both were extraordinary events where the need for giving was acute.)