By Nathan Czochara
You will see them peppered all over the Kalamazoo area—charity drop off boxes accepting donations of clothing, books, and shoes. With an act of kindness from generous citizens, these donations will help those in need . . . or do they? Unfortunately, some of these charities give giving a bad name, and one of them is Planet Aid.
In recent years, much criticism has been aimed at Planet Aid, which has a box located at 815 W Prairie Street in Vicksburg. The non-profit organization, which says uses donations to aid international projects, has been reported across the nation for misleading donors for nearly a decade. Both the Better Business Bureau and American Institute of Philanthropy (aka CharityWatch) have given Planet Aid failing assessments over the years.
CharityWatch is a Chicago-based organization that has been investigating and assessing charities since 1992. Analyzing Planet Aid’s 2012 tax form, CharityWatch found that Planet Aid only spent 27% of its revenue on its charity programs, while making $38.4 million from selling clothes and shoe donations. Planet Aid claims that their work expenses in recycling donated clothes and preventing them from going to landfills has a made a huge contribution to a cleaner environment. CharityWatch disagrees.
“It would be like Wal-Mart claiming that its main purpose is to help low-income people have a higher standard of living by selling them less expensive merchandise,” says CharityWatch founder Daniel Borochoff in a 2006 report.
Also, investigative reports across the nation have asserted that Planet Aid goes deeper than just its own organization as well. The Chicago Tribune in 2011 wrote a piece discussing donations boxes including Planet Aid were tied with controversial Tvind Teachers Group, a Danish organization headed by Amdi Petersen. Written by Tribune writer Monica Eng, Petersen was extradited to Denmark and tried for embezzlement and tax evasion, of which he was acquitted. Other donation box charities named in the report tied to Tvind are Gaia, USAgain, IICD and Humana.
“[All these] boxes are [tied with] Planet Aid, they go under different names, but they all are Planet Aid,” says Denise King, Director of Marketing and Communications for Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan.
In the past, King says she was concerned about charity boxes cutting into Goodwill’s operations, which uses clothing donations to fund many of their local charitable programs. King says in the past citizens used to think these boxes were headed by Goodwill, and donate to them unaware of where it was going. Yet, thanks to media attention and new government regulation requiring permits on these boxes, donations for Goodwill are healthy.
“We were concerned at first, especially with so many [boxes] that have turned up. Our donations have stayed strong due to the press and getting the word out,” says King. She believes people want to be helpful, and doesn’t want a few bad apples to spoil the whole giving tree. “You can donate where every you want, but know where you are giving.”