Source Evaluation Series Week 3: What Do They Want from You?

business-19156_1280In last Monday’s post, we explored the American Lung Association’s background. In today’s post, we will examine if the organization wants anything from the visitors to their site. While most websites are relatively benign, it is essential to realize that some seemingly well-researched websites have an agenda. Upon further examination of the site, you may find that they are actually tools for spreading misinformation and propaganda, supporting a social agenda, or are skillfully constructed advertisements for products and/or services.
Despite their commitment to saving lives through the prevention of lung disorders and disease and providing education to the public, it is important to acknowledge that the ALA* website is also a fundraising tool. While this is clearly not the bulk of the website’s construction, it is present, so we must investigate further. The ALA has a Nonprofit Tax Code Designation: 501(c)(3). To earn this designation, the organization must serve one or more of the following purposes: “religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (as long as it doesn’t provide athletic facilities or equipment), or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals” (ProPublica, Inc., 2015). The ALA falls under several of these categories, so it is easy to understand why they carry the designation. However, in order to complete their goals of preventing disease and death, they rely on public and private funding. Therefore, the website encourages visitors to donate to the American Lung Association Christmas Seals® Campaign” (American Lung Association, 2015b). While encouraging donations may seem concerning at the outset, one must realize that this is a common practice in non-profit agencies, as they are particularly vulnerable to the funding-whims of the public. If you are considering a donation to a non-profit, many are listed on the site ProPublica,* along with their history of 990 returns. They also offer a list of resources for investigating tax-exempt organizations.
To serve as a point of contrast, something like the Lifetime Movie Network website functions to inform you of their programming and convince you to watch. They also sell merchandise associated with the shows. We can safely say that their website is primarily interested in increasing revenue, something we would expect from this type of website.

*The Eclectic Data Hunter is not affiliated with the organization or website used in this post. All rights belong to their respective owners and authors. Usage does not convey endorsement. Use of the ALA, ProPublica, and Lifetime Movie Network sites is for educational purposes only.

If you have questions about the series or a particular website, please comment below or send your query to eclecticdatahunter@gmail.com.

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