As 2013 has drawn to a close, and with the Holiday season behind us, it’s time for 2014 to begin in earnest. For many people the beginning of a new year presents an opportunity for productive or positive personal change. Many individuals make New Year Resolutions, or set goals or promises to better themselves, or their environment, in the New Year to come. Some vow to try new things that would benefit themselves or others around them.
For many in the autism community, both those with autism themselves, and those with autistic loved ones, 2014 is offering hope for a beginning of change in the way that society views autism. It may also bring about the possibility of a change in how those affected with autism can get financial assistance, as well as positive and helpful education related to their conditions. Some of this change centers around sponsors, and those that donate their time and money to organizations, and charities that support people with autism. The organizations use this money to conduct research, educate the public, and offer financial help and equipment to those that need it.
In 2013 a boycott and petition was started against Autism Speaks, one of the most well known, though not necessarily well loved, autism organizations. Although Autism Speaks has many corporate and private sponsors, a number of whom donate large amounts of money to them, recent events and data have shown that perhaps this is not the most beneficial organization for companies, or individuals to be donating to. Autism Speaks claims to offer support through financial and educational resources to those with autism, and their families. Yet if one looks at the data for Autism Speaks, it raises some serious questions about where the money donated to the organization is actually being used. Data from the 2012 audited financial reports of Autism Speaks (2013 data is not yet available), can be viewed on Charitynavigator.org
Charitynavigator.org is well known website that provides financial data and ratings for many different charities, and organizations. This gives potential donors the ability to see exactly where their money is being used in a charity that they have decided to donate to. The websites data shows that Autism Speaks earns only 1 out of 4 stars for their financial expenditures. “We believe that those spending less than a third of their budget on program expenses are simply not living up to their missions. Our data shows that 7 out of 10 charities we’ve evaluated spend at least 75% of their budget on the programs, and services they exist to provide. And 9 out of 10 spend at least 65%.” The data shows that Autism Speaks spends only a very small amount on family services, grants, and awards. This leaves one to wonder why they make so many claims about helping, and donating to those with autism that need assistance. More information about this can be found on http://www.charitynavigator.org, as well as http://www.boycottautismspeaks.com.
The list of corporate sponsors of Autism Speaks is a long one. Well-known companies such as Toys R Us, Build a Bear, Shop Rite, GAP, FedEx, Home Depot, and Zale’s are all large companies, and they support and sponsor Autism Speaks. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that these companies can sit down, and really take a good look at the organizations that they are donating their money to. Hopefully they will become aware of the recent petition and boycott, and it will help to influence their decision about whether or not to continue their support.
Although the restaurant chain Panera Bread is still listed on Autism Speaks website as being a corporate sponsor, we recently contacted Jonathan Yohannan, the director of public relations via email. Jonathan was kind enough to set up a phone conversation to discuss autism in general, as well as give an answer to the question of whether or not the company he works for would be continuing to support Autism Speaks in 2014. Jonathan stated that
“Our corporate focus is on fighting food insecurity. However, franchisees have the flexibility to support a variety of causes locally and nationally including the important issue of autism. As of today, we are not aware of any planned campaigns that support Autism Speaks in 2014.”
Although Panera Bread has not joined the boycott, or signed the petition against Autism Speaks, it was encouraging to learn that a company as large as Panera was concerned enough about the issue, as well as about autism in general, to respond to our inquiries, and the concerns that many in the autism community have about Autism Speaks. Hopefully more of the companies that support Autism Speaks will continue doing research, and look a little more closely at the current statistics and data, before continuing to donate to an organization that does not appear to be doing much help or good for those that they claim to support.
There is hope that this New Year may turn out to be one full of better education, better and more readily available assistance, and acceptance by society concerning autism. If sponsors do their research, and look into the reasons behind the boycott of Autism Speaks, they may well find out that their money would be better donated elsewhere. By donating to organizations that spend more of their money on directly helping those with autism, the sponsors will be helping to better individual lives, better educate society, provide support for those who need it, and condone acceptance and equality for everyone.