Published on September 15, 2016 on LinkedIn here.
I have a problem here. Something doesn’t sit right with me. If you already follow me on LinkedIn, you know that I recently decided to call myself a philanthropist. It’s a title I’m proud to have added to my professional headline and I even wrote a brief musing highlighting the definition of philanthropy.
To me, philanthropy is sacred. I care a lot about charity and a lot about philanthropy. I’ve dedicated my life to it as a professional fundraiser. I’ve raised funds for education, poverty, and religious and community organizations. It’s fun. I love it. But, I never thought I’d have to clarify the purpose of philanthropy!
I thought it general knowledge that the purpose of philanthropy is to help people; to give people access to better education, food or healthcare; to give people a hand up or a hand-out. It’s for strengthening communities. Giving large sums of money comes with prestige. It comes with recognition. Naturally, the true internal self-benefits are a sense of pride in a great act of altruism. It’s one of the best things we can do on earth: to help people.
One of the ways fundraisers encourage people to give to their charity is by having a challenge donor. A challenge donor is someone who matches the sum total of smaller donor’s gifts when a certain amount is raised within a specific time period. It allows for greater impact to the charity and the smaller donors feel their gift is going further. It’s also about rallying together to support a great cause.
The problem I am having is in reading this article about a wealthy individual (ironically the co-founder of LinkedIn!) challenging the general public to donate to a crowdfunding campaign raising funds for veteran’s charities. Now this in and of itself is wonderful, but the problem is the author is only a potential philanthropist because of an added stipulation of giving if Donald Trump releases his tax returns by October 19. This condition would never be used by professional fundraisers.
Our code of ethics don’t allow us to turn philanthropy into a form of bribery. Please also note that the potential donor has personal interest in this going viral because he is an investor in the crowdfunding company being used by the campaign. Additionally, if Donald Trump accepts the bribe (which he won’t!) it also violates the Association of Philanthropy’s Code of Ethics to not to exploit any donors or prospects.
So, I have several concerns: exploiting a prospect, financial benefits to the potential donor (thus also nullifying it’s federal requirements that no benefits are received in exchange), and the fact that the money may not actually go to any charity! Typically, charities receive all the small donations at the very least and so the “match” by the challenge donor is the gravy on top. Sometimes the challenge donor even decides, in their (presumably) great act of generosity, to give their gift in full anyway. In this case, this is a private individual creating a crowdfunding campaign who is (dare-I-say-it?) “threatening” Donald Trump to either release his tax returns or forfeit these funds to charity. The fine print reads: “Your card will only be charged if Donald Trump releases his taxes.”
This is not charity! This is a form of bribery. And, we can’t let this set a precedence in the philanthropy and fundraising sphere. Furthermore, the crowdfunder and the potential donor even go on in their separate internet posts to ironically hold Donald Trump to a standard of integrity. I’m going to fall harder on the potential donor because he asserts that Trump needs to “demonstrate his commitment to the public interest” when it’s he himself who isn’t going to donate the funds if Trump doesn’t give, and he’s criticizing Trump for labeling our democracy a “‘rigged system’ where insiders trade influence for their own personal gain’ when the potential donor (after-the-fact!) disclosed his personal interest as an investor of the crowdfunding website platform. And, he’s right when he writes, “In a functioning democracy, the public shouldn’t be forced to bargain with a major presidential candidate to obtain access to his tax returns.” Then don’t do it! You did this–not Donald Trump! You even criticize Trump for using tax returns as a bargaining chip, but then you are caught in his game by using charity as a bargaining chip! Worst of all is that your bargaining chip is our country’s highest honor of our veterans! This is hypocritical, deceptive, and exploitative. It marred the sacredness and purpose of philanthropy.
Now, in line with my true vocation, I’d like to ask you to donate to the veteran’s charities highlighted in the campaign without the if statement. These charities are: Pat Tillman Foundation, Hope for The Warriors, Hire Heroes USA, Team Rubicon, Children of Fallen Patriots, Wounded Warrior Project, Yellow Ribbon Fund, Travis Manion Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation and Team Red, White & Blue.
Give because you want to give without getting anything in return. Let’s maintain the ethical and moral standards of what it means to give to charity. Furthermore, in light of the recent scandals at the Wounded Warrior Project, please hold charities up to the same moral and ethical scandals. You can check how your money will be spent by reviewing the usage of donations from the website Charity Navigator.
And, Donald Trump, I hope you do release your tax returns so we can see what charities you support (and how much!).
So, when I see someone with false intentions give to charity, whom some would like to call a philanthropist, I have a problem with the authenticity of the donor. I also wrote a post about the reason why we give to charity.