Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gates Foundation Donations vs. Foundation Investments

This post is in reference to the January 8, 2007, The Seattle Times article, "Gates Foundation Invests In Firms Accused of Abuses" by Charles Piller at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003514469_gates08.html?

This issue is an excellent red flag. Do we fundraising professionals need to understand a donor's investments and business practices; and how these day to day business operations relate to giving?

For instance, let's say that hypothetically you run a (made up, here) private, local, non profit organization, Back To Home, and your mission statement says 'Back To Home assists, educates, and connects local resources to people so they regain housing after losing their residence due to wrongful eviction, lawsuit, or emminent domain'.

What if Back To Home worked the past year and a half raising donations for a brick and mortar project, Back To Home's Temporary Housing Shelter; and a substantial donation comes in from one of the largest donors in the world? You'd jump up and down and your clients would smile in relief. They and their families are going to have somewhere safe, warm, and clean to live until they can get their own housing, again.

Let's say that in the next moment, suddenly, the above news story comes to mind and it crosses your mind, 'hmmm...maybe we don't want to accept this donation for ethical reasons?'

"Question everything and know where you stand!" More than one teacher encouraged me to be a critical thinker in life. Let's be critical in our analysis, too.

If your organization is aware that one of your donors is related to business practices that are creating clients for your agency (or, in other words, hurting your clients) you are wise to consider the situation. Here is where that relationship you've developed with the donor is critical.

1. Don't assume. Research whether there are people being hurt by the allegations. Look into your clients' cases and see if they are related to the business donor's case.

2. Call the donor and be clear, honest, and fair. Don't indicte anyone without a fair and honest investigation. Ask, 'is there a direct connection between their foundation (the actual donor) and the corporation whose business is hurting your clientele and people in the community?' If there is, ask, 'what is their position on the allegations?' If they can't share that with you at this time (do to legal proceedings), ask, 'are the allegations true?'. Gather the information that they can share with you.

3. Talk the situation out with your Board and staff. Consider everyone's point of view, concerns, and suggestions. Get the opinions of legal counsel and clients, too.

4. In the end, really, your organization will have to take some of my educators' advice; "Question what you've been told and know where you stand". You and I know that no one can know everything; no one can know the truth. This means that your organization will have to know what donations will they decline (graciously) and why? Please see my post, "Is There A Donation That Our Organization May Not Take?" at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/05/is-there-really-grant-that-our.html

Undoubtedly, Bill and Melinda Gates made most of their wealth off of the Microsoft Corporation. Their foundation, the Los Angeles Times discovered, invested in businesses that are being charged in court with business practices that are in direct conflict with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hope, "bringing innovations in health and learning to the global community".

So, what's the solution? In the end, each non profit organization must decide their comfort level. Some non profits may decide that they can't accept funds from an organization that hurts its cause. Other non profit groups might decide that they can accept funds from donors with connections to businesses that are 'creating work for them', as the money is being used to fix the problem through the non profit's mission and work.

This is a very interesting situation and the dialogue that it encourages is a good one. Please share your thoughts in a comment to this post. Thank you.

[Note: in no way is this post, or any post by me, legal advice. This post is meant to spark dialogue about this recent news.]

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