Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

March 20, 2007

More charitable slime exposed

The New York Times has exposed yet another scandal in the charitable marketplace.

Based on its investigation of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the group that founded and controls the Shriners Hospitals for Children, The Times reports on the Shriners’ “lax accounting procedures and oversight under which money earmarked for the hospitals instead financed temple activities,” including paying for liquor, parties and members’ travel to Shrine events.

In the face of reports of excess and wrongdoing at a small but growing number of charities and foundations, organized philanthropy and nonprofit trade groups have staunchly opposed tougher regulation of the charitable marketplace.

These groups, like Independent Sector and the Council on Foundations, argue that nonprofits and foundations can and will police themselves.

But self-policing cannot curb abuses by groups and individuals that neither recognize or respect accepted and acceptable standards of behavior.

In their fierce fight to ward off challenges to their "independence," big foundations and nonprofit trade groups mainly are defending their turf and their right to do business however they like without interference or oversight by anyone.

It is a sad commentary on the nonprofit world – and a shining affirmation of the critical role the news media can play –- that it is the news media rather than the self-appointed guardians of the nonprofit sector’s independence that continually are the organizations exposing shameless behavior in the charitable marketplace.

Green clout sprouts

Today’s news brings two more shining examples of the role nonprofits can play in helping to shape corporate strategy and public policy.

As The New York Times reports, the Sierra Club has agreed to scrub opposition to a coal plant in return for a promise by Kansas City Power & Light to cut carbon-dioxide output by the amount a new plant will produce.

The Times reports in the same story that a group of 65 big firms and investors, organized by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies and the Investor Network on Climate Risk, are asking Congress to set a carbon policy to curb climate-change risk and give businesses a better sense of the requirements that are likely to emerge.

If they focus themselves on policies they care about, organize themselves, team up with partners who can be effective, and work the system to negotiate with corporations, lawmakers and other policymakers, nonprofits and charitable foundations can make a difference.

Too many nonprofits and foundations, however, steer clear of policy work, leaving critical policy issues and decisions unexamined and unchallenged -- even as those groups whine about the impact of those policies.

It is time for nonprofits and foundations to get involved, get organized and speak up.


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