Politics and Charity

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 3rd, 2010 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

1 comment

I subscribe to several virtual clipping services that send me, daily, the headlines of stories about nonprofits from around the country and, occasionally, from around the world.  I subscribe to several because, despite the redundancy, there are, more often than not, unique items on each service.

But why do I do this?  I get more than enough e-mails on a daily basis so why add more that I need to read?  First, it allows me to maintain a national perspective.  Are the things going on in Philadelphia, for example, unique to the City of Brotherly Love or is the same thing happening in The Big Apple, Sin City and/or The Big Easy?  Second, it allows me to keep on top of the recurring issues that plague nonprofits, big or small, old or new, mid-Atlantic or southwest.  Third, it helps frame some of what we develop and do here at The Center.   And fourth, it keeps me chuckling!

To wit, one of today’s clipping services had the following combination of stories that had my going.  Headline number one:  “Again—Politics and Charity Strange Bedfellows.”  Nothing strange about it.  It just shouldn’t be!  It is right up there with dating your boss or having the executive director be on the board or nepotism.  There are some things that simply do not go together.  In this case, the strange bedfellows are a California state senator running for a US congress seat who used $175,000 from his state senate political account (which, by California law can be used to make a donation but cannot be used to fund a Congressional race) to make a donation to a Colorado-based nonprofit—actually, according to his latest campaign report, it was a $25,000 donation and a $150,000 loan.  In turn, the Colorado nonprofit ran ads a few weeks before the election featuring the state senator promoting a concert for veterans at a resort and casino that appears to be in the district of the sought seat.  The ads were not an endorsement of the politician, but timing is everything and perception is absolutely reality.  There is nothing strange about these bedfellows, though plenty of other adjectives can apply:  imprudent, unwise, ill-advised, injudicious, and just plain stupid.

My favorite headline of the day, however, was this one:  “Charity that Protects Rhinos Condones Their Killing.” I confess that I had to read the headline several times, sure that the writer had confused his condones and condemns or that the proof reader had fallen asleep at the job.  But, alas, neither of those thoughts was the truth of what happened; the truth is the headline.  It seems that the British charity, Save the Rhino (and the name mostly says its mission) has created one of the most convoluted logics I’ve ever had the struggle of trying to understand in exchange for, to date, £32,000 (around $47,000).  Save the Rhino has linked horns with Safari Club International, an organization that auctions off rhino “trophy hunts to [wealthy] shooting enthusiasts.”  Excuse me?  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of that board meeting as the trustees figured out how to justify putting the words “save” and “trophy hunting”  in the same sentence!  But it gets better when you hear the “logic” from Save the Rhino.  It uses phrases like not being “sentiment-driven” and “sustainable use of animals” with “not wanting to see animals killed” and “looking at all the different ways we can make sure we get money for conservation coming in.”  Sustainable for whom?  The rhinos or Save the Rhino?  It seems that Save the Rhino has shifted its sight from mission to rhino derriere.  What was this organization thinking?

Nonprofits, pay attention! We do not operate in a vacuum; our actions do have consequences; others are watching and adding two and two and getting four.  There is rarely any truly any easy money.  Think carefully about the implications of what you do, no matter the size of the “reward” money being offered.  You do not want to be the headline that makes folks chuckle.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.