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Why There's More Than Meets the Eye With Some Charities

Brendan Byrnes
March 21, 2013

In the video below, Ken Stern, former CEO of National Public Radio, discusses why some charities are popular despite little evidence of effectiveness. While this certainly isn't to say that all charities are ineffective, Stern shares a few stories below about how some charities have played up their actual effectiveness. Stern also gives his take on how people can find charities that are making a difference. 

The full version of the interview can be found here, in which Stern discusses his new book, With Charity For All. In the book, Stern takes on the charitable sector, which he says, "operates with little accountability, no real barriers to entry, and a stunning lack of evidence of effectiveness." Stern discusses in detail what’s broken in the charitable sector, how to fix it, and how Americans can best make a difference. Given Stern's unique perspective from his time at NPR, we also discussed with him the future of radio, and the technologies that are disrupting it. 

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Brendan: A couple of the individual charities, or at least individual charitable sectors you talk about -- one is D.A.R.E., another one is the water charities in Africa and Latin America -- could you talk about those specifically, and what’s going on with them? Maybe more than meets the eye?

Ken: Yeah. I’ll tell you a couple of stories. There are lots of stories in my book. It tells you in loving detail; I’ll give you the skim read of it.

D.A.R.E., which is -- sorry, I can’t actually remember what the acronym stands for -- is the principle educational charity in this country for educating children about the challenges of drug abuse. There is 20 years of high-quality research that shows that D.A.R.E. is actually ineffective, and, in some cases, harmful, because it’s where kids actually can learn about drugs.

What is extraordinary to me, it’s actually on a list of social programs that don’t work, yet it still remains because it has a good public narrative, it has good political connections, and good ties to local police departments and schools. It still remains the principle charitable educational program in this country and, because no district is going to have more than one drug awareness educational program, it blocks other more effective programs from getting in.

Water charities to me are very interesting, because water charities are very good ... what you’ll find is charities are very good at the stories that sell. The stories that sell are drilling whole wells. The stories that don’t sell is maintenance and repairs -- an engine