April 12, 2017

Wise Giving Wednesday: Charity Under the Big Top – Circus Fundraising Events

Earlier this year, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus announced their closing after 146 years and are now in their final performances ending sometime in May. Falling ticket sales, criticism from animal rights groups, among other things, led to this result.  As reported in The Washington Post on March 29th, while there is no equivalent U.S. federal law, performing animals are banned in many nations in Europe and Mexico and several Latin American countries have also placed restrictions on circus use of animals as well. 

But don’t think that the Big Top is folding forever, a number of smaller traveling circuses still continue in the United States. Some of these traveling shows have a history of doing performances to benefit charities. For example, the website of one such circus notes that it works with municipalities, service organizations, booster clubs and charities to hold fundraising events.  In another instance, a circus reports that it is a charity itself that supports a youth program in South Africa. 

In past years, for some circus fundraising events, there have been instances of questionable ticket sale marketing particularly on behalf of police and firefighter organizations.  Examples of problems include telemarketers that ask businesses to sponsor blocks of tickets with the promise that they will be used for needy children to attend the event when no such arrangements have been made, overselling the number of tickets available for an event, and/or circumstances that result in very little of the money raised going to the specified cause. 

If approached by a fundraising circus activity, BBB Wise Giving Alliance advises individuals to ask how much of the ticket sales will go to the designated charity and to take the time to verify if the mentioned organization meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. Also, visit the organization’s website to see if the charity is funding the type of programs and activities that you want to support. 


As part of our Building Trust Video series, we are pleased to provide a video of Joshua Rednick, President and CEO, Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (a BBB Accredited Charity) which funds basic, re-clinical and patient-based diabetes studies. Key funded research areas include tissue engineering, immune tolerance, regenerative medicine, stem cell research, and nanotechnology to restore biological insulin production.  


We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit Give.org or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include: 

Finally, remember to let us know by going to https://www.give.org/ask-us-about-a-charity1/ if you are interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.   

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO
BBB Wise Giving Alliance