Do homeless nonprofits face dilemma over money versus mission?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 26 Apr 1999 16:34:44 -0700 (PDT)


In "Major Barbara", a classic play by Fabian socialist G. B. Shaw, a
Salvation Army Mission accepts money from the very makers of liquor and war
who drive people to the mission doors.  In our day, the delemma remains of
how money can taint or coopt our efforts toward social justice.

Has the real or percieved need for and available sources of "money affected
the mission" of nonprofit organizations addressing homelessness?  How?  For
the better of homeless people?

I invite your comments on the related article below:

http://www.pioneerplanet.com:80/seven-days/3/living/docs/023375.htm
FWD  Religion News Service - Sunday, April 11, 1999

NONPROFITS FACE DILEMMA OVER DUBIOUS DONORS

Bruce Nolan, Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana

   A former Haitian dictator reaches into his stolen wealth to help Mother
Teresa's work with the homeless in Calcutta.

   Michael Milken, a Wall Street tycoon who did time for securities fraud,
dispenses much of his fortune to medical research centers.

   And Percy ``Master P'' Miller, a businessman who built a fortune selling
gangsta rap, saves a dying school for poor children.

   So, is taking charity from a dubious source a good thing or bad?

   ``That's the most interesting question in philanthropy,'' said Eugene
Tempel, a consultant at Indiana University who advises nonprofit
organizations on, among other things, the thorny problem of ``tainted
money.''

   There are no clear rules, of course. Or, put another way, there is only
one overarching guide: ``Ask what's best in the long run for all the
stake-holders in the organization,'' Tempel said.

   That's easy to ask, and hard to answer.

   And so it turns out that taking money from dubious sources is usually
more about taking a good read on public perception than following bright
ethical lines, according to conversations with several experts in the field
of philanthropy.

   At one level, of course, the problem is theoretical 99 percent of the
time, the kind of conflict many starving nonprofit organizations only wish
they could have, said Peggy Morrison Outon, who teaches the ethics of
fund-raising at the University of New Orleans.

   ``There's a very strong sense of poverty in nonprofits,'' she said.
``Most nonprofits never have the luxury of having to engage in nice ethical
discussions.''

   Then, too, trolling for gifts is also the art of cultivating an
institution's natural friends, said James Lee, director of development at
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. As a practical matter,
institutions don't seek gifts from potential donors with very different
values.

   But what of the rare lightning bolt out of a blue sky, an unsolicited
gift over the transom?

   That happened recently when Miller, responding to a private plea from a
distraught grandparent, surprised church leaders with a personal check for
$250,000 to his alma mater, St. Monica Elementary School, a safe harbor for
poor children that had been scheduled to close in May after years of
struggle.

   Miller's No Limit label is the nation's most successful marketer of
gangsta rap, the widely denounced, sexually explicit music that tells the
tales of mean living in tough, violent neighborhoods.

   ``I have conversations with other development officers who believe that
they `clean' the money in service to humanity,'' Outon said.

   Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who ministered to the abandoned dying on
the streets of Calcutta, apparently took that view.

   She took money from former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and
$1.25 million from Charles Keating before Keating's conviction for
defrauding elderly clients in the collapse of his savings and loan. She
even wrote Judge Lance Ito a character reference before Keating's
sentencing.

   She reportedly said that, if anyone was interested in helping in the
work of the Lord by helping the poor, she was happy to act as the
intermediary.

   But Mother Teresa's reputation for personal poverty, along with her
devotion to such a catastrophic human need, made it almost irrelevant whom
she took money from, Tempel said.

   Few other institutions, however, are so armored with good will. Most are
more vulnerable to public opinion, to a charge of hypocrisy that could
damage their good name and their work.

   There also is a counterview to the idea that good works cleanse money,
and Outon holds to the other camp.

   ``When I ask for money, I'm entering an implicit contract with the
donor,'' she said. ``If I'm not proud of who that person is, of supporting
them in whatever way I need to, then I don't want to be associated with
them.

   ``I don't think you can take a person's money and disavow him. And I
don't want to partner with anyone I'm not proud to be seen with.''

   In New Orleans, the Catholic church, which vigorously opposes gangsta
rap, took Miller's check after examining two questions:

   Would taking the money amount to cooperating with evil, and would taking
the money stir such a scandal the church's mission would be damaged?

   Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Aymond and the Rev. Jose Lavastida, a
Rome-trained moral theologian, played key roles in advising Archbishop
Francis Schulte to take the money, because Miller's offer passed on both
counts, they said.

   The key fact, in their analysis, was Miller's assurance in a
conversation with Aymond that as a solo performer he was moving beyond
gangsta rap, developing new lines of income in clothing and professional
sports, and, in any event, his rap persona was not an accurate reflection
of the man behind the lyrics.

   Even so, Miller's No Limit label still publishes records full of raw
rap. And Aymond acknowledged this week that he came to the question
equipped with only the most superficial knowledge of rappers and how they
are seen by their audiences, rap culture and varying messages in rap music.

   On balance, though, Aymond and others decided early on that accepting
Miller's offer, discreetly made and apparently without ulterior motive, did
not amount to cooperating with evil.

   Moreover, there is no ethical obligation to determine which of Miller's
dollars came from rap, and which came from other lines of income in his
growing enterprise.

   That's a decision many pastors in many churches face, Lee said.

   ``When a member of your church is tithing, you don't know where all that
money is coming from,'' he said.

   That left to be addressed the notion of public scandal, requiring a
real-world estimate of what would most hurt the church and ultimately the
people it serves: taking the money, or walking away?

   ``We asked, what is the scandal -- that the church has decided to accept
a private donation, no strings attached, from a person who has changed?''
Lavastida asked. ``Or is it that we are refusing to keep open a school that
serves primarily the poor? Wouldn't that be a scandal? We'd have to wrestle
with that for years.''

   In the end, the archdiocese's decision to take Miller's gift produced
relatively little public criticism.

   It may have put church leaders in mind of a rueful observation Tempel
said is common in philanthropic circles:

   ``The problem with tainted money is that there 'taint enough.''

END FORWARD

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