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July 30, 2020

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Where Does $100 to Comic Relief (Formerly Known As American Giving Back) Go?

by Anne Paddock

Comic Relief, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) headquartered in New York City. Comic Relief, Inc. was formerly known as “America Gives Back” and is doing business as Comic Relief USA but is often just referred to as “Comic Relief.”  Got that?

Initially launched in the 1985, Comic Relief was first established in the UK by entertainers to raise funds for poverty stricken areas of the world. Several years ago (2006) , the organization established a separate organization – Comic Relief, Inc. dba “Comic Relief USA.”

So how does Comic Relief help alleviate poverty?  By raising funds and making grants to other organizations that operate social welfare programs, both foreign and in the USA, similar to what United Way does: collect revenue, vet organizations, and award grants (except that United Way has local organizations that focus on awarding grants to local charities  or local chapters whereas Comic Relief is one organization in the US and focuses on awarding grants to both foreign and domestic organizations).

In 2018, Comic Relief raised $48 million, almost all of which came from contributions, gifts, and grants. The organization was able to spend more than they received because they had $7 million in net fund assets at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, the net fund balance was $4 million.

Expenses totaled $51 million and were categorized as follows:

  • $42 million (87% of total revenue): Grants
  • $ 4 million (8% of total revenue):  Compensation
  • $ 3 million (6% of total revenue):  Fees for Services (no detail provided)
  • $ 1 million (2% of total revenue):  Office-Related Expenses
  • $ 1 million (2% of total revenue):  Donation Processing

Using the above information, every $100 in revenue was spent as follows:

$100:  Revenue

-$ 18:  Compensation, Fees, Office, and Donation Processing

$ 82: Revenue Remaining

-$ 87: Grants

-$  5:  Excess Expenses over Revenue

As illustrated above, $18 out of every $100 in revenue was spent on supporting the organization, primarily compensation and fees for services.

31 employees received $42 million in compensation, which equates to an average compensation of $135,000. However, only 12 employees received more than $100,000 in compensation.  Fees for Services are funds paid to outside individuals or organizations including $2.5 million to unspecified entities with the remaining funds paid to accountants, lawyers, and professional fundraisers.

$42 million or $87 out of every $100 was used for grants.  Comic Relief awarded grants to both domestic and international organizations. 12 grants totaling $23 million were awarded for program support to to the following domestic organizations:

  • $6.0 million:  The Children’s Health Fund
  • $3.2 million:  Laureus Sport for Good Foundation
  • $2.7 million:  Feeding America
  • $2.5 million:  Boys and Girls Clubs of America
  • $2.2 million:  City Year
  • $2.0 million:  Ounce of Prevention Fund
  • $1.5 million:  Covenant House
  • $1.0 million:  Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico, Inc.
  • $1.0 million:  Save the Children
  • $600,000:  Unidosus
  • $250,000:  Seattle Foundation
  • $250,000:  The Chicago Community Foundation

$19 million in grants were awarded to 25 foreign organizations, 19 of whom are recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS, and 6 of whom are not.  The organizations are not listed. Instead, the geographic location is listed with the grant amount:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 8 grants totaling $11,889,000
  • East Asia:  3 grants totaling $1,045,000
  • South Asia:  3 grants totaling $1,108,000
  • Europe/Iceland/Greenland:  1 grant totaling $110,000
  • South America:  3 grants totaling $804,000
  • Central America/Caribbean:  3 grants totaling $3,790,000
  • Middle East/North Africa:  2 grants totaling $109,000
  • North America:  2 grants totaling $360,000

As illustrated above, 63% of grant revenue was awarded to 8 organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The second largest recipient was Central America/Caribbean (awarded 3 grants totaling $3,790,000).

In summary, Comic Relief is a non-profit that raises funds and awards grants to help alleviate poverty. The organization tends to make large grants to about a dozen domestic organizations in the US and large grants to organizations in Sub Saharan Africa and Central America/Caribbean. About $87 out of every $100 in revenue is awarded in grants, which is a high percentage. However, in whole dollars, it is important to point out that Comic Relief used $9 million (or $18 out of every $100) to support organization support services.  For donors who want their donation dollars to go further, they should bypass Comic Relief and give directly to the domestic organizations who have been vetted and awarded grants (these organizations are listed on Schedule I).

To read the IRS Form 990 (2018), click here.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 30 2020

    It’s important to remember they award those funds via grants to other organizations who then have to deduct their administrative and overhead expenses before going to the purpose of the donation. In other words, a donation to Comic Relief has two sets of expenses deducted before reaching the target.

  2. viewsfromunderthebus
    Jul 30 2020

    82% of donations going to the mission is pretty good. Much better than many charities. I would not criticize them on that basis.

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