Charities & Advocacy to Question

CHARITIES & ADVOCACY TO QUESTION

By Kirstin Beatty

Updated 21 July 2021

 

In the UK, a user-led disability services group has been out-competed by big charities for contracts, but these big charities then often ask the user-led group to do the work for ‘small pots of money.’ In the USA, addiction treatment centers often fail since treatment is too short, yet failure doesn’t hurt business and so some see relapse as profit. Exploitation like this is wrong, but failing to help while offering help can be lucrative. These can be charities and nonprofits offering help for cash, and somehow the mission gets lost.

Presenting to legislators or advocates, there can be special interests too. Claims for avoiding or delaying change, such as supporting new legislation, include, as follows:

    • moderation
    • tradition
    • allegiance to privilege (prestige, authority, degree, position, etc.)
    • lack of knowledge, acceptance, understanding.

However, the waiting interim allows new plans for exploitation to develop, time for investors and businesses to rearrange investments, to set up new laws for liability protection, and to hide cash overseas.

Industry front groups grab good names, but anyone can be a nonprofit these days and spend maximum money on lobbying: look the lack of policing of 501(c)4 tax-exempt groups and of 501(c)3 ALEC.

The Cancer Prevention Coalition has called for a boycott of the American Cancer Society for taking big donations from Big Pharma, Big Telecommunications, and Big Chemical. According to the ACS, more money for pharmaceuticals, testing, diet, and exercise are the only answer to cancer, not limiting environmental pollution.

ACS pays its executives exorbitant amounts – 2 million plus for one executive alongside numerous six-figure salaries – while maintaining reliance on many volunteers. One letter to the editor, by Vernon Hill in the Carteret News-Times on 3 December 2009, states his organization sent the ACS 900K over three years, covering 37K of costs and tightening expenses at ACS request, while the ACS spent 45% on salaries but wouldn’t even cover event T-shirts and, to top it off, culled 140 staff positions that year.

In contrast, some local advocacy groups lack budgets, and some nonprofits’ that do budget salaries more wisely. In both cases, donations are usually necessary at some point, but ideally for sincere action and not just for to create a brand for licensing agreements like the pink ribbon for breast cancer.

So, how can you tell whether an individual or organization, including a small-time group, is leeching off problems, getting rich off misery, to differentiate from those that are sincere? Here are a few measures:

        • Openness or honesty regarding who runs the organization (online):
          • If concealed, is the concealment real, partial, and is there any reason?
          • If someone admits to or says he/she is leading an organization, then why is it not listed on the website?
          • Is relevant background information shared of leaders?
          • If you are contributing to the organization, then are you listed as doing so on the website or in materials?
        • For what does the group/ person advocate?
          • Aside from education, what kinds of political changes are being moved forward?
          • Is advocacy for the status quo or minimal change?
          • Are there clear policy statements?
          • Is the direction of advocacy unclear?
          • Is advocacy hidden from view, i.e. occurring behind the scenes so that you don’t know what is said?
          • Are mistakes admitted?
          • If the group provides or funds research, is the research needed? Is the research conducted following best practices to allow for satisfactory peer review?
          • If the group provides education, is the education free or at cost?
          • Check advocacy materials:
            • Are these accurate?
            • Do these align with your beliefs?
            • Are any of these for sale, and if so is the price reasonable or fair?
          • Is the group mailing list used for marketing?
        • Where do donations or where does the money go?
            • How much money does the organization have?
            • Is the money going towards marketing that appears to benefit personal sales?
            • If marketing occurs, is it transparent? Are connections to family, etc., and the group made clear?
            • Are donations going towards a specific project?
            • If there is a list of supporting organizations, is it clear whether those organizations receive any part of the donations?
            • Are affiliated businesses or nonprofits reaping profits – and if so, how is the money used by affiliates?
            • Are salaries being paid to those who don’t need it while volunteers who do need support go without funds?
        • Sharing is caring – in public and online:

          • Do they share information that is helpful to you?
          • Do they share relevant lawsuits or engaged in lawsuits?
              • Are the lawsuits shared effective?
          • Do they share relevant legislation or engaged in writing legislation?
                • Did you double-check the efficacy of legislation promoted?
          • Do they share information on lobbying via other avenues, such as federal agencies?
          • Does the organization reasonably reference other outside, useful resources?
          • If not, is there a decent reason such as ability only to focus on a few things (which are?)?
        • Membership:
          • Do you know other members in the organization?
          • Do you have the sense that you are being kept from contact with other members or placed in silos?
        • What is the organizations privacy policy?
          • How does the organization collect or share email addresses and contacts – and is this ethical?
        • Testimony:
          • Are you given an opportunity to sign onto testimony or platforms in support or automatically added without explicit consent?
          • Are requests for support of testimony or platform straightforward?
          • Is there a trustworthy review of emails sent on behalf of the organization to insure consistency with mission and with member intentions?
          • Is there oversight of communications?
          • Are there private meetings with legislators behind the scenes? What is being said and can this be verified?
        • Exaggeration of personal accomplishments, taking ownership of other’s work, and omission of other’s accomplishments:
            • Do they use a name which is similar to a larger, better-known organization (to steal its reputation)?
            • Is work original or does it build, with fair credit, on the work of others?
            • Does work plagiarize or mimic the work of others – copying other websites, articles, theories . . . ?
            • Is name-dropping used to suggest ownership of an activity or person?
            • Note the scale of any marketing or self-promotion – is anyone over-promoted, such as being the first subject of every sentence?
            • Note omission of thanks;
            • Note whether thanks is public to give honor – note BCC: email may not be trustworthy as “public;”
            • Note when giving thanks or credit if major players are omitted, focusing on non-competitors only;
            • Accomplishments – are these accomplishments simply by virtue of knowing someone and being there, i.e. what did the person actually do?
            • Make a list of actual accomplishments – evaluate for originality, practicality, and effectiveness;
            • For legislation, do they admit the original source of the idea or any support?
            • For lawsuits, do they share information on the proceedings and who is involved?
            • Is the resume based on paying contractors to do work and on expensive services, rather than work by the group?
        • Who does the organization or personality dismiss, attack, or critique, and is this justified?
            • If an individual is described as “angry” or otherwise emotional – is the individual in the loop to explain or reply?
              • Why is the individual “angry” or emotional? Is there a good reason?
            • If targeting the competence or work of another – is there a well-explained basis or is this just a prejudicial statement?
            • How does the organization, personality, or industry benefit from the attack?
            • How does the targeting impact the cause?
            • Does the personality or organization effectively isolate or break apart community and collaboration?
            • Is there any benefit to this behavior and to whom or what?
        • Deflecting Criticism:
          • Has the group deflected criticism through money, such as via (a) sales agreements, (b) offering jobs or well-paid bonuses, or (c) by virtue of access to expensive material goods or services?
          • Has the group deflected criticism by virtue of having many connections, or at least saying so?
          • Does the resume show marketing rather than substance?
        • Check reputation:
          • If a nonprofit, use these resources to check:
            • CharityNavigator dot org
            • Guidestar dot org
            • Give dot org (Take reviews with a grain of salt)
            • CharityCheck101 dot org (Not every organization will be listed, such as Last Tree Laws which is politically organized and not a nonprofit)
          • For any group, check connections via:
            • SourceWatch dot org (Background information on organizations such as ties to industry)
            • Check history of board members,
            • Check history of administrative teams,
            • Check primary donors,
            • Check affiliations,
            • Check product sales and licensing agreements (the latter is possible in big organizations),
            • Check openness or direct honesty regarding sales and affiliations,
        • If the organization appears to be doing little, can you contact the organization for information, assistance or advice? Is the organization paid to do its work? Is the organization underfunded and understaffed?

The Bill Gates Foundation has been critiqued for supporting his child’s school and Bill Gate’s stocks in pharma, education, and GMOs. He appears to be using his foundation to profit and avoid taxes. For examples, see:

              • The Nation‘s “Bill Gates gives to the rich, including himself” March 17, 2020, by Tim Schwab
              • The book No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy by Linsey McGoey
              • Vox dot com “The Media loves the Gates Foundation. These experts are more skeptical” by Julia Belluz 2015 June 10
              • ChildrensHealthDefense dot org “The Brave New World of Bill Gates and Big Telecom” 8 May 2020 by Robert F. Kennedy and Dafna Tachover

In Massachusetts, Rep. Peter Durant has put forward bill H. 3708, “An Act Limiting the Compensation of Executives in Nonprofit Organizations.” He has the right idea but the limits proposed seem too low: he proposes for a nonprofit with a budget of $249,999 a maximum CEO salary of $49,719. If this were a part-time job, that would be more than adequate, but as a full-time job that is on the border of or not quite enough to support a family without a second income or government charity.

In sum, good work needs support, but it also needs to be identified.