2006.05.26: May 26, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Thailand: NGOs: Staff: Chief of Staff: New York Times: Thomas Tighe meticulously lays out the financial affairs of the charity he runs, Direct Relief International

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Special Report: Direct Relief International Head Thomas Tighe: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Thomas Tighe (Thailand) : 2006.05.26: May 26, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Thailand: NGOs: Staff: Chief of Staff: New York Times: Thomas Tighe meticulously lays out the financial affairs of the charity he runs, Direct Relief International

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Thomas Tighe meticulously lays out the financial affairs of the charity he runs, Direct Relief International

Thomas Tighe meticulously lays out the financial affairs of the charity he runs, Direct Relief International

"The trouble is that a lot of them are locked into these very expensive fund-raisers and benefits and so forth," Mr. Blau said. "Direct Relief does something different, and I think organizations that do well and have innovative thinking like this are great. It's better than sending out address labels." Thomas Tighe, the head of Direct Relief International, was formerly the Chief of Staff of the Peace Corps and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand.

Thomas Tighe meticulously lays out the financial affairs of the charity he runs, Direct Relief International

Charity Invites Donors to 'Kick the Tires' and Squeeze the Cash Register

New York Times

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. As slides with bullet points and pie charts flashed behind his head, Thomas Tighe meticulously laid out the financial affairs of the charity he runs, Direct Relief International.

"We are a public corporation," Mr. Tighe told the audience of more than 200 donors. "No one has a stronger interest in our doing good than you, because you've invested in it."

For the last four years, Direct Relief, which provides donated medicine and medical supplies to communities around the world, has held a "shareholders' meeting" for contributors to demonstrate its accountability and to burnish its relationship with its donors.

One donor, Jude Blau, says he likes the meeting because it is informative and different from the typical interaction he and his wife, Mary Jane, have with other charities.

"The trouble is that a lot of them are locked into these very expensive fund-raisers and benefits and so forth," Mr. Blau said. "Direct Relief does something different, and I think organizations that do well and have innovative thinking like this are great. It's better than sending out address labels."

H. Art Taylor, president and chief executive of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a watchdog group, said if more charities adopted this approach, "there would be a lot less questions about what nonprofits are doing with their resources and a lot less skepticism about the sector in general."

Last year, Direct Relief received $15.7 million in cash, stock and investment income and $121.5 million in donated supplies. "For every $1 we spent," Mr. Tighe said, "$25.50 in aid went out the door."

The charity began holding the shareholders' meetings to expand its appeal to donors locally and beyond. They were the brainchild of Barry Kravitz, a money manager who was then on the board.

"I told them it was really important for people to be able to come here and kick the tires," Mr. Kravitz said. "What you're doing as contributors, you really are investing in this company, and so you're interested in what your investment is doing."

Direct Relief invites representatives of the organizations it has supported to attend the meetings and explain how the charity has assisted them, as well as to offer primers on the challenges they face in providing health services in impoverished and conflict-ravaged countries.

Dr. Jerome Sulubani, a pediatrician at the Mansa General Hospital in Zambia, told donors how a premature baby who weighed roughly one pound at birth had survived as a result of an incubator donated by Direct Relief, the first his hospital had. "Today, that girl is in primary school," Dr. Sulubani said.

Direct Relief works with pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers to get products needed by medical professionals like Dr. Sulubani who lack the basic tools to do their jobs.

"We're kind of a Costco for poor countries' health services," said Mr. Tighe (pronounced TYG, as in tiger).

The money it receives, from $3 million to $4.5 million in an average year, is used for overhead costs and to transport supplies. Donors like the idea that their money helps more than $100 million of donated goods get to needy people. "It's a huge selling point, that the money is so well used," said Kate Firestone, a donor and board member.

Ms. Firestone was among the board members who elected to cover many of the costs Direct Relief incurred in responding to the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean rim at the end of 2004.

Donors provided $14 million for the tsunami victims roughly three times what the charity raises in a normal year. The board decided that every penny should go into the relief effort, in part because that was what donors expected and in part to build long-lasting relationships.

The board covered the costs of bank charges, credit card fees, processing receipts for donors, additional accounting and other expenses related to managing the tsunami-related gifts. Direct Relief did not pay any part of its staff salaries from them.

"This was cash in excess of what we traditionally get, so we had to think through what we should morally, ethically and responsibly do with it," Mr. Tighe said. "As one board member said at the time, 'This is not our money.' "

At the shareholders' meeting, Mr. Tighe reported that about 9 percent of the donors who gave to Direct Relief for the first time after the tsunami later gave it money or in-kind donations for its routine operations.

"For probably most of our history, we were primarily supported by people living in Santa Barbara," said Mr. Tighe, who joined Direct Relief in 2000 from the Peace Corps, where he was chief of staff and chief operating officer. "We had never had an ability to get in touch with folks outside our very local area."

That all changed before the tsunami, when Google gave the charity one of its coveted Google Grants, essentially free advertising on the search engine's Web site. Mr. Tighe said the organization's national reach, while still small, has increased ever since.

It received $4.73 million designated for victims of Hurricane Katrina, even though it is mainly known as an international relief organization, and it used the money to get medicine and medical supplies to doctors on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The tsunami and Hurricane Katrina put the charity in the business of providing grants to local organizations. In Sri Lanka, such money bought five ambulances for a local charity and trained 16 emergency medical technicians and 20 first aid responders to operate them.

In Mississippi, it bought coats.

"I knew Direct Relief dealt with medicines and physicians, but I called Chris anyway," recalled Rhonda McNair, executive director of the Reuben T. Morris Wellness Foundation, referring to Chris Brady, Direct Relief's vice president for programs. Direct Relief gave the Wellness Foundation $82,061, about $500 of which was used to buy coats.

"Today is when we get the connection between our money and what happens to it," said Nancy Walker-Koppelman, a donor. "I had no idea that we gave money to buy coats."

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Story Source: New York Times

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