Don't stop giving


POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

The theft of $128,000 from the Honolulu office of the Aloha United Way raises serious questions about the charitable organization's security, but it would be a shame if the crime further depresses Christmas giving, especially with so many separate nonprofits struggling to fill a growing need this holiday season.

Police are investigating the theft, which occurred the Sunday after Thanksgiving at the AUW's office on Vineyard Boulevard. Stolen were cash and checks donated by employees of 45 Oahu companies in a recent fundraising campaign.

Affected donors raise legitimate questions: Why was the money left in the office over the weekend, rather than promptly deposited in the bank? Why did the AUW wait so long to inform them of the theft, especially check-writers vulnerable to identity theft?

The impulse of some potential donors may be to snap their wallets shut at the news, disgusted that their hard-earned money could go into the hands of criminals rather than the needy Hawaii folks for which it was intended.

While that impulse is understandable, quelling it is essential. Such a reaction would harm dozens of AUW partners and unaffiliated nonprofits, compounding the pain in what is already a staggering year for social service agencies that have lost government and private funding as the economy falters and demand for aid surges.

Among the charities struggling in Hawaii is the Lokahi Giving Project, which isn't collecting enough donations to cover everyone in its annual Adopt-a-Family holiday drive.

“;We feel committed, responsible, that each one of these families get something. We want them to know that there are people out there who care, that they're not alone, that things are going to get better,”; executive director Mariellen Jones told the Star-Bulletin. “;No donation is ever too small or unappreciated, especially by the person who receives it.”;

With the skyrocketing number of nonprofits in Hawaii, it is easy to find one that suits a donor's aims exactly, and data is readily available online regarding each charity's mission, administrative expenses and spending outcomes.

The National Center for Charitable Statistics counted 7,587 nonprofit organizations in Hawaii in 2008, a 38.5 percent increase since 1998. They run the gamut from huge native Hawaiian trusts to neighborhood sports teams, suicide crisis centers to social clubs.

Increasingly lost in the crowd of so many super-specialized tax-exempt groups are the front-line social activists who toil, day in and day out, to improve the lives of the dispossessed. They reach out to that mentally ill teenager living on the street, to the foster kid whose parents are in prison, to the frail elder who fears dying alone and forgotten.

So go ahead and demand answers from the AUW. Even support another charity if necessary. But don't stop giving. Because if that happens, the people who suffer most won't be the ones who allowed this crime to happen.