Yéle Haiti: Ready Or Not?

I stand by my previous refusal to vouch for the Wyclef Jean Foundation's Yéle Haiti charity. But it's not clear how damning the newly popular case against the charity is.

If you have spent the last week buried under some rubble, you may not know that Jean has collected several million dollars for Haiti relief through the distributed power of texting.

What are all those kind people buying with their contributions? Here's the most complete case, from CBS:

The foundation, founded in January 2005, intends to airlift supplies using a FedEx plane into Haiti early next week carrying medical supplies, water and Clif Bars, according to foundation president Hugh Locke.

An Associated Press review of tax returns and independent audits provided by Jean's foundation showed that it was closely intertwined with Jean's businesses.

Three of the five foundation board members, Jean, Jerry Duplessis and Seth Kanegis, are involved in his personal music and business endeavors.

According to an IRS tax return from 2006 reviewed earlier by the Web site The Smoking Gun, the foundation paid $250,000 to buy airtime from Telemax S.A., a for-profit TV station in Haiti that is majority owned by Jean and Duplessis.

Part of that money went to pay for a concert in Haiti put on by Jean himself, Locke said.

Another $160,000 that year was spent on a concert in Monte Carlo that Jean participated in, of which $75,000 paid for backup singers and $25,000 went to Jean through a company he owns with Duplessis, Platinum Sound Recording Studios Inc., Locke said.

"I'm not saying he didn't benefit from it,'' said Locke, who says his own salary is $8,100 a month after taxes.

Here's the Smoking Gun material. Non-profit management is an ugly business under the best conditions. There are few major charities where you won't find most of the pennies on your donated dollar diverted to waste, rent-seeking, politicking and other forms of institutional self-perpetuation. Jean's has not blazed any new trails in reliability, and it's wonderful to contemplate the levels of concealment involved when somebody asks what you make and you respond with how much you make per month, after taxes.

Furthermore, Haiti didn't just start being a basket case on Tuesday. It doesn't make the mismanagement any less serious that it was going on when Haiti was a disaster nobody cared about. It also doesn't inspire confidence that Jean's staff might rise to the occasion now that Haiti is temporarily a disaster everybody cares about.

On the other hand, most charities, like most everythings, are failures, and despite Yéle's previous poor performance it could still succeed with its new windfall. I'd expect more than a plane full of Clif Bars for my $5, but given how hard it is to get into Port-au-Prince in the first place, even this may not be evidence of incompetence.

It has been jarring this week to realize how many people give some variation of "I just give and pray the money goes where it's supposed to go," when asked about the reliability of charities. But who am I to judge? I kicked into a Help Haiti bucket the other day that for all I know is being handled by the Avenues Gang. It's still a pretty good bet Jean is doing more for Haiti than fellow Fugees Lauryn Hill and Pras.

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  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    I've seen Clef on PSAs asking people to volunteer for the Red Cross. Maybe it was an AFN thing.

  • ||

    Hospital Albert Schweitzer Haiti is from what I read the only operational hospital there right now. If you're going to make a private donation consider making it to a group like that.

    Also, wouldn't it be nice if the mobile phone companies waived the text and data fees for text donations? Just saying...

  • Mike||

    I just heard Bill Clinton say that for the first time in his life, Latin America wants to help Haiti.

    Just imagine the cries of Hispanic racism if a Republican said that.

  • Whitey||

    I am shocked that Black People might not value tribalism over MeFirstism. Regardless, I despise Caribbean hip-hop. Does that make me a racist? Discuss.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Well considering how good the Fugees' work is in general and how good Wyclef's solo stuff is in particular, yes.

  • ||

    Racist.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    No, because I'm quite certain that the people who listen to Caribbean hip-hop can't like it. It's horrible stuff.

  • Whitey||

    It was a rhetorical question, i.e. a stupid blog comment, but thanks for playing. Not that Caribbean hip-hop doesn't suck.

  • ||

    Racist.

  • torpid||

    Non-profit management is an ugly business under the best conditions. There are few major charities where you won't find most of the pennies on your donated dollar diverted to waste, rent-seeking, politicking and other forms of institutional self-perpetuation.

    Which is why we can never rely on private charity to replace government welfare programs, as you libertarians with your law of the jungle economic philosophy always fall back on.

  • Justin||

    But private charities, if mismanaged enough, will have the common courtesy to shut down. Government programs can continue to stagger along well after they've proven their uselessness.

  • Not To Be A Dick, But||

    Since government welfare programs don't suffer from any inefficiencies due to " waste, rent-seeking, politicking and other forms of institutional self-perpetuation"?

    The difference is that with a little effort, you can find effective private charities; my search for efficient government continues.

  • Al Gore||

    He..e..y, how a..bout some car..bon credits. It ain't charity, but it sure fe..els like it!!!! ;)

  • Bleeding-heart non-liberal||

    I donate to charity BECAUSE I am a libertarian. Of course not all charities are great, and that fact is made worse by the ridiculously low standards for obtaining non-profit status, but the charities I've had experience with do a lot better job than government agencies I've had experience with.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If you have spent the last week buried under some rubble...

    Really, Tim?

    Moving on, I think it says a lot about Jean that he at least cares enough about Haiti to make money off it.

    (Also, the comment preceding this one says "drink!")

  • ||

    Don't bury me! I'm not dead!

  • Monty Pedant||

    It's actually "I don't want to go into the cart".

  • hmm||

  • Al Gore||

    Re..mem..ber, while it is im..por..tant to assist the people of Haiti, we need to be cog..ni..zant of the carbon fo..otprint used to get the people bottled wa..ter, the hospitals so..lar panels, and the doc..tors or..ganic medical supplies. I sug..gested Bill use a glui..der to re..trieve the girls from Lil Kim's, but he in..sisted on a jet. Most un..fortun..ate!

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Thanks for keeping us straight there, Al. Otherwise we might have forgotten to worry about the carbon foot print.

  • hmm||

    I give money to charity for the tax credit.

    I give time to charities because it makes me feel good and some people just need a hand. I also know that what I am doing has an effect.

  • ||

    I have spent an awful lot of time in the wake of the Haiti earthquake looking at 990 forms.

    It is impossibly easy to fudge these. All you have to do is to move a fundraising expense to a program expense, and voilà, you're an efficient charity! Similarly, salaries paid to individuals within the organization can become "fees" (also a "program expense")... it's stupefying.

    One of the consequences of this is that it's hard, without making judgment calls, to come up with a rational assessment of the particular charities. My favorite recent example to beat up on is the Humane Society of the United States. Their 2007 990 -- to use just one example of some rather shady accounting tricks -- shows that of $18.1M in mailing costs, $15.6M was due to program costs.

    For an organization that appears, from the outside, to be as dependent on direct mail as the HSUS is, this is just nonsensical. I would be willing to bet that the vast, vast majority of that is fundraising pleas.

    [con't]

  • ||

    Yet, Charity Navigator gives them four stars, their highest rating. Poking around, we discover that this is because Charity Navigator is intentionally naive:


    ... [T]he information provided on the Forms 990 is provided by the charities themselves. Insofar as the Form 990 has been filed with the IRS, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the activity of charities, we do not attempt to discern where charities have presented inaccurate or misleading information. Instead, we take charities at their word and assume that the information filed in the 990 is true, correct, and complete, to the best of their knowledge and belief, affirmed by the signature of an officer of the organization. We do not accept responsibility for any case where a charity misrepresents its financial conditions in the information provided in its Forms 990.


    This makes Charity Navigator useless for finding large direct-mail scammers. Only the most careless of charity scammers will file a 990 that could trigger a bad report from CN; the smart ones tailor their 990 to make themselves look much, much better than they really are.

  • ||

    This sort of thing seems to be your specialty. Are there any charity-watchdog groups you'd care to recommend?

  • ||

    It's hard to say. The American Institute of Philanthropy is willing to call some spades spades, but they also waste time on non-non-profits such as think tanks and public lobbying organizations, plus you have to take their word for everything, plus you have to pay for most of their ratings, i.e. this is a tool for people who are considering donating sizable amounts of money. All that said, expenses are expenses, and anyone willing to call out direct mail machines for what they are earn some cred points in my book -- and the reverse is also true.

  • suckitupcrybaby||

    Rememeber you don't get the 100% tax credit for charities after Obama slashed it to around 30% of each dollar. Donate because you want to help. Be carefull who you donate to as pennies on the dollar will get to the people. Convoy of Hope already has an operation there and will get the supplies where it needs to go.
    www.suckitupcrybaby.com

  • John Forté||

    Nutz baby!

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Wow...what an awesomely obscure reference.

  • ||

    Haha thank you... he's out of jail too

  • ||

    Which is why we can never rely on private charity to replace government welfare programs, as you libertarians with your law of the jungle economic philosophy always fall back on.

    Very nice.

  • ||

    Because government-financed "charity" has such an awesome record of cost-effectiveness.

  • ||

    Well someone needs to get over there and do something. I mean rally.

    RT
    www.online-anonymity.se.tc

  • Ska||

    What happened to all those cans of stew you promised to donate?

  • ||

    I'veread that the most efficient charities get 75% of each dollar to the helpees. Jean's apparently gets 69%, plaving it well up on the more efficient end of things.

    As he said, if you're going to put on a concert, you need a production company, and it seems the "problem" here is he would hire his own. But is that really so weird? Wouldn't most people do so, given that then you are in charge, and can try to make sure a good job is done?

  • ||

    here is a god charity to give your hard earned money. the charity where the president is working hard in ground zero moving dead bodies and rescuing lives. when since yele's wyclef jean have seen this before in present history.

  • ||

    On the other hand, most charities, like most everythings, are failures...

    That's a sloppy statement and you need to back it up with something other than your disdain.

  • ||

    I wonder if all those accountants who've lost their jobs in the music biz aren't moving over to working for charities, this stuff seems about that sleazy.

  • ||

    Which is why we can never rely on private charity to replace government welfare programs, as you libertarians with your law of the jungle economic philosophy always fall back on.

    How about replacing goverment welfare programs with private enterprise & actual useful work?

    Never mind.

  • DCMatt||

    Didn't Ayn Rand consider altruism (by extension, charity) to be frivolous? You should all be counting your money and placing orders for commemorative gold-plated 9/11 dinner plates; we all know that is the only tragedy that ever mattered. Let the reasonless peons worry about these utility-deficient Haitians.

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