How a business mindset makes Kars4Kids a better charity

A look at what drives us to think differently

Our Approach

To really understand Kars4Kids, you need to ignore much of what you’ve been told about charities and how they “should” operate. The public has become used to the idea that charities have to constantly ask for donations to fund the work they do on society’s behalf. And we’ve been told that charities should not spend very much to accomplish that work. As a society, we leave innovation and growth strategies - and big budgets to work with - to the business world, leaving the nonprofit sector risk-averse and hungry.

We at Kars4Kids don’t think that makes very much sense. We believe organizations doing great work for their communities should be permitted to raise money to support their programs without restrictive and out-of-touch fundraising standards. How can we expect nonprofits to accomplish their altruistic missions without allowing them the same latitude to raise funds as for-profit businesses do?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up to the beginning, shall we?

Kars4Kids was registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2000 (then as “Joy for our Youth”).  But our roots go back to the 1970s, with a big-hearted rabbi in New York helping the local families and kids in his community. As his outreach grew, so did the network of volunteers he pulled in to contribute to his endeavors. It was his son, our current CEO, who really took the organization from a grassroots community charity to a national household name operating at a scale then unimaginable. It started with neighborhood carnivals and selling popcorn, the kind of fundraising approach only an ambitious little kid would dream up. The tactics got savvier with time, but always kept that same spirit of innovation and creativity - borrowing entrepreneurial grit from the business world and putting it to work to enable life-enriching programs for youth.

It was with this ethos of always looking for new ways to create a sustainable revenue stream that we started accepting car donations in the mid-’90s.

Instead of just asking for handouts, we serve a need, making it easy to get an old vehicle picked up and turning a potential hassle into funds for children’s development.

Of course, our volunteer-written, in-house-produced, no-frills radio jingle was a pivotal part of getting Kars4Kids national recognition and millions of donations - and so we’ve kept it on the airwaves for over two decades, flying in the face of convention, because we know it works.

But also, we obsess over giving our donors an exceptional experience and doing everything we can to make the most from every donation we get. It’s our can-do attitude, frugality, and daring to think differently that got us to where we are today. And it’s what continues to drive us to keep our operations in-house so we can keep the costs down and the service excellent.

We are, in a word, different. And in a good way.

But here’s the thing - and why the typical charity evaluator gets it wrong.

The organizations that evaluate and rate charities aren’t able, within their algorithms, to wrap their heads around an organization that doesn’t conform to the traditional nonprofit model of soliciting donations to fund their work.  They get fixated on metrics like fundraising expenses and fundraising efficiency, which are of course important but hardly provide the full picture.

Not many people realize this, but most car-donation organizations outsource the process.  By doing that, they shed an operational headache – but they also shed a good chunk of the revenues.

We don’t do that.  Our in-house approach means, ironically, that we actually keep more money for the kids.  It may look less financially efficient on paper because we report the costs associated with advertising for and picking up car donations.  Almost all other charities that accept car donations report only an expense-free grant from the company to which they outsource the car donation process.

The evaluators don’t take any of this into account.

If we confined ourselves to the ratios and percentages they arbitrarily demand, we would never have been successful in the ways we have.  Together with our sister charity Oorah, we support thousands of Jewish children and families with our full suite of year-round programs – including summer camp, youth groups, school placement and tuition assistance, family retreats, and community outreach.  We offer a holistic approach to developing a generation of strong contributors to the community.

We are proud of what we are accomplishing.

You see, the millions of dollars we raise today generate dreams and provide experiences for children they likely would not otherwise have.