Our Voice: Herald's deeper look at nonprofits reveals Tri-Cities' heart

The Charitable Cities.

What an aptly titled series of articles that appeared in the Herald last weekend, extolling the virtues of the many non-profits in our region and the amazing financial support they get from our community.

The series was further documentation that we live in a truly wonderful place.

While some might think this to be self-serving promotion of the articles in the Tri-City Herald, those folks clearly did not read the series. The stories provided a wealth of information about the services provided by area nonprofits, how they spend their money and how they pay -- or in some cases don't pay -- their top executives.

Time and money are valuable commodities and we encourage anyone wanting to give either to a local or national charity to do their homework first. When making decisions on donations, most of us know how we intend for our money to be used, whether it's food for the hungry, a safe place for the abused or books for young ones. But that may not always be how the dollars are spent, and it's worth doing a little checking before writing checks.

Some great tools are available including databases detailing nonprofits' finances and executive compensation at tinyurl.com/TCH-Charities. There you can discover interesting facts like this: John Neill spends up to 60 hours a week as the director of the Tri-Cities Food Banks. He works for free. Of the charities with a presence in the Mid-Columbia, Junior Achievement of Washington's statewide president, David Moore, earned the most in 2011, at almost $293,000.

Food for thought.

But a deeper look at charities, including their overhead costs, leadership structure, adherence to the mission and other matters deserve consideration in your decisions.

One thing is certain: We know you're going to give. We just want you to be armed with the information to wisely make those decisions.

The Herald reviewed the financial statements of 40 local nonprofits and found that 73 percent of those saw an increase in donations between 2009 and 2011. At a time when our state and national economies were in turmoil, our community found ways to give even more.

Demand increased during the same time, however, creating a struggle for some charities to keep up with a growing customer base. Part of that increase is because of overall population growth in the region, creating a greater drain on social services.

Charities used to be in the business of serving the critically poor in our communities, but that demographic has shifted to included families surviving from one paycheck to the next.

Operating costs have increased, further straining the budgets of nonprofits. Still, 38 percent of the charities reviewed were able to cut expenses. And 85 percent were able to end 2011 with more net assets than they had two years before.

That says something about the leadership of these organizations. Most have volunteer boards and some paid staff, some still are entirely volunteer driven. They are all tasked with difficult decisions and it appears most are making sound ones.

We thank all of you who contribute your hard-earned dollars to make our community a better place. And we applaud those who are working every day to make it a great place for all of us to call home.