• TL Zempel

When Government Funding Meets Emotion

What happens when average, ill-informed people jump on a bandwagon that is based on emotional reaction more than logical analysis? Here's an example:

This week, the world erupted when the Federal government proposed cutting $18 million in Special Olympics funding from its next budget. And by 'world', I mean the world of the left-leaning elite who want tax dollars to support every special interest they hold dear.


Before I get too far into my own ideologies, however, let's do two things: analyze all funding sources for the Special Olympics (a private corporation); and compare that to funding for other private organizations in the U.S.


To begin my research, I conducted a search using the boolean phrase "special olympics funding sources" on the top three search engines: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. I found nearly identical lists on the first pages of all three search platforms, none of which offered me a link to a site that would provide a breakdown of actually where the funds to operate Special Olympics come from.

I did get links to Betsy DeVos' ill-advised attempts to take money from disabled children, as well as links that provide opportunities for me to donate my own money. I have to wonder about the top three search engines and their integrity in online searching when the phrase "special olympics funding sources" fails to elicit any sites that divulge the funding sources for this organization. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I clicked the second and third pages of results, and the murky puddle of nothingness intensified.

So I skipped that strategy and went straight to the Special Olympics website, intent on scrutinizing it for a hint as to its funding sources. No luck there, either, although I did find an interesting page on their website called Partners. When I clicked onto that page, I found an international list of mega-companies, all of whom apparently contribute financially to the Special Olympics. Number one on the list? Cola-Cola, the only company listed as a "founding partner". How much money do you suppose Special Olympics reaps from its capitalistic contributors world-wide? Perhaps surprisingly, I was finally able to find this information when I conducted the second aspect of my search. The results are from December 2017, but you get the drift:



What's interesting to me is the amount spent on raising money (nearly $15 million) compared to the amount the U.S. government contributed in grants (over $15 million). Why does that much money need to be spent on fundraising? 15 million dollars? Perhaps this is what has Betsy DeVos up in arms: the amount of money that Special Olympics collects from the government is nearly equal to the amount of money it spends to collect even more money. One has to wonder what their fundraising budget is paying for.


Another chart that might be of interest is this one, the percentage breakdown for funding distribution within the Special Olympics organization:


17% of the Special Olympics budget goes to either fundraising or administrative expenses. So that means that 83% is going to the programs that Special Olympics supports. But what about that 4 and a half percent that supports something called Program Expenses Growth? What does that even mean? And where does that 4.6% come from? It can't be part of the total funds, because that would put the chart over 100%.



Now, let's analyze government funding for other private organizations in the U.S. My search phrase for this one was "major government grants". That got me nowhere, because every amount of money given out by the government, apparently, is considered a grant. To schools, to cities, to states, to....anything.

So my next search was "government charitable grants". What I got was a page-full of how to apply for a government grant for my non-profit. I decided to think of specific grants that I know are given out by the government, such as to the National Endowment of the Arts. This turned out to be a non-starter, because the NEA is a government agency, unlike the Special Olympics. So trying to compare how money is distributed from the Federal level seems to be much like comparing apples to oranges: they both involve similar properties, but their definitions and parameters can be vastly different.

One website I found in my research that is helping me to understand charitable organizations is this one: The Balance. Here, I discovered a wealth of information about what it means to be a non-profit.


My search for answers was so frustrating that I can understand why the average person declines to take the time to become informed before jumping onto an issue, one way or another. But here is the bottom line for me:

My problem with the Special Olympics funding debate is that it is an emotional issue. Denying things for disabled children (and adults) is right up there with denigrating cute puppies or slamming the neighborhood lemonade stand. But cute puppies and kids selling lemonade on the corner are not the same thing as a corporate entity. The best way to decide something with a financial stake is to remove the emotion from it. And do some actual research into the topic.

Gaining an accurate picture of the finances of the Special Olympics has given me a different perspective on that $18 million. You can draw your own conclusions.





T.L. Zempel, teacher and author
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copyright 2020 by TL Zempel