Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about nonprofit organizations and their impact


Rules, they say, are made to be broken.

This is not necessary when it comes to the rules designed to promote transparency in foundations. They’re so ineffectual that there’s no need to break them.

Wealthy donors can and do hide charitable giving for which they claim tax deductions, the investments they hold in tax-advantaged accounts and information about what they pay their professional staff, which is also tax-deductible.

The result is that despite such well-meaning initiatives as Glasspockets and the Fund for Shared Insight, transparency and accountability in the philanthropic sector are on the wane.

Billions of dollars of philanthropic dark money are flowing into so-called donor-advised funds, the black boxes of philanthropy. Private foundations and charities, meantime, have devised their own ways to avoid public scrutiny.

This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, the money flowing into foundations and nonprofits is tax-subsidized. Donations are tax deductible, as are most earnings from investments. In order to judge whether the tax subsidies are beneficial, people and their elected representatives should know where the money comes from, how it’s managed and where it goes. Second, big-time philanthropy is an exercise of power. The charter school movement, environmental activism, Washington think tanks of every stripe–these are all fueled by charitable dollars. By deploying dark money, the wealthy escape accountability.

This problem was thrown into focus last week by the inadvertent disclosure of deposits made by three of America’s wealthiest donors into donor-advised funds held by the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund. Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer donated $1.9bn into his account. Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, put $526m into her fund. Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp, deposited $144m.

Their deposits were revealed only because of an IRS mistake caught by Bloomberg. Without the IRS error, no one would know that these funds exist. Going forward, it will be difficult if not impossible to know how they are spent. Big money is shielded from public view. .

By coincidence, Ray Madoff, a Boston College law professor and leading critic of donor-advised funds, or DAFs, last week held a philanthropy “boot camp” for reporters. Madoff, who has been called the woman saving the world from philanthropy, told those of us in attendance that it is harder than ever to hold big-time philanthropy accountable for its power.

Of the $1.9bn deposit into a DAF made by Ballmer, Madoff quipped: “I hope you all enjoyed making that gift with your tax dollars.”

It’s no joke. Assuming that the former MSFT exec is in a top tax bracket, that donation could save him (and cost the federal government) as much as $600m. Which is fine, but it would be useful to know how the money is being spent, so we can judge whether the tax deduction for such charitable donations is worth the foregone federal revenues.

The fastest-growing sector of philanthropy

Donor-advised funds, or DAFs, are the fastest growing sector of philanthropy, largely because of the tax benefits and anonymity they offer. Tech-industry titans, in particular, favor DAFs. Just in the last few months, my own reporting has bumped up against DAFs funded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna; Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and his wife, Kaitlyn Krieger; and Brian Acton, who with Koum founded WhatsApp.

In 2016, DAFs brought in $23bn in contributions and held charitable assets of $85bn, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. In 2017, driven by the new tax law, they almost surely grew faster. Donor-advised funds made up six of the 10 biggest charities — yes, as a matter of law, these are public charities — on the latest annual list published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

DAFs provide significant tax advantages over private foundations, which until recently were the common philanthropic vehicle of the very rich, even in Silicon Valley, as evidenced by the Hewlett, Packard and Moore Foundations.

The key, as Madoff explained it, is the differing tax treatment of so-called complex assets, such as pre-IPO stock, private C- and S-Corp stock, restricted stock, limited partnership interests, artwork and collectibles. While tax law requires private foundations to value such donations based on their cost, DAFs permit donors to deduct the full value of such assets, without paying capital gains tax on the appreciation, according to Madoff.

“Taxpayers who give appreciated property get double the tax benefits of those who give cash,” she said. “This double benefit is a big part of the rise of DAFs.”

In a pitch to donors, Fidelity Charitable quotes Steven C. Mayer, the former CEO of Teva Pharmaceuticals and a Fidelity DAF holder, as saying: “Donating privately held stock to a private foundation is not a tax-efficient option.” The pitch concludes: “When it comes to helping donors and their advisors donate complex assets to charity, Fidelity Charitable is an ideal option.”

Particularly if you are donating “commercial grains” or “virtual currency,” which Fidelity accepted as donations in 2015, according to its latest IRS Form 990. We can only imagine how these complex assets are valued for tax purposes.

Why DAFS are a sham

Right about now, we should also point out that DAFs are based on a fiction. Under the law, when donors put money into a DAF, they “give up all legal control over their donations,” Madoff said. In practice, the donors can merely “advise” the DAF — hence the term donor-advised fund — about where they want the money to go. You can bet your last dollar that the DAF management firms heed that “advice,” so long as donations go to an accredited charity.

This fiction is the reason why donors can take an immediate tax deduction when they give to a DAF, and incur no obligation to push the money out to real charities that, er, actually try to do good.

Unlike private foundations or most public charities, DAFs have found a way to avoid disclosing information about their own operations–and, importantly, how much they generate in fees for the asset management companies that birthed them. Fidelity Charitable’s operations are outsourced to FMR, i.e., Fidelity Investments. which as a private company need not disclose salaries. It does not report the pay of any employee.

Remarkably, Goldman’s Sachs Philanthropy Fund also does not pay any employees, which is convenient because it does not have to disclose what they are paid. It told the IRA on its Form 990 that “neither the organization nor any related organization compensated any current officer, director or trustee.” *

It’s not as if private foundations are models of transparency, either. Try, for example, to find out what Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation of former NYC mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, pays its CEO. Its Form 990 lists fees paid to directors, but not to staff. Nor does it list its investments–as most private foundations do. Instead, it simply says that its endowment is managed by Willett Advisors.

Might Gates and Bloomberg own shares of fossil fuel or tobacco companies? If you care about such things–I don’t, particularly–there’s no way to check.

See what I mean about not having to break the rules designed to promote transparency? They’ve become a joke.


Disclosure: I opened a DAF with Vanguard last year for tax reasons. None of the money will sit in the DAF for any longer than three years. Because I’m a reporter who covers philanthropy, I list my charitable donations each year in a blogpost, like this one.

UPDATE:  * Andrew Williams of Goldman Sachs emailed me immediately after this post went up to explain. He wrote: “This DAF is managed by Goldman Sachs Private Wealth employees as a service to our charitable clients and all services are donated.  GSPF (Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund) has no employees.”

Also, I probably should not have singled out the Bloomberg Family Fund for its lack of transparency. John Seitz of Foundation Financial Research sent me pages from the Ford, Hewlett and Moore Foundation 990s that show investments in funds identified only by numbers or letters, whose actual holdings are opaque. Others, like MacArthur and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are much more transparent, he notes.

sp001pxHelping the world’s poorest people escape poverty is, in principle, a simple matter: Give them cash! The trouble is, there are too many of them: About 700 million people  more than twice as many people as live in the US — are thought to live on less than $1.90 a day, according to best estimates from the World Bank. Probably the only practical way to end poverty on that scale is with robust economic growth. That will take time.

In the meantime, though, unless we choose to ignore their suffering,  it would be helpful to figure out how governments, foundations, donors and profits should use their wealth to lift the incomes of the poor. Should the wealthy give cash grants, gifts of livestock, low-interest loans, job training or something else to the extreme poor?

It’s an important question. While longer term investments in public goods — roads, ports, education, health care systems, good governance — can help spur economic growth, so can helping poor people be less poor. As Jeremy Shapiro, a founder of nonprofit GiveDirectly, has said: “Poverty alleviation through redistribution–if it acts as a stimulus or engine for human capital–can further economic development.”

Two recent studies — both about nonprofits that I’ve praised on this blog — have got me thinking about short-term poverty alleviation. One is a randomized evaluation from Innovations for Poverty Action, a research and policy nonprofit that often works with development economists, that looked at a “graduation” program run by Village Enterprise in Uganda. The study found that the graduation program–a multi-faceted attempt to improve livelihoods–lifted the consumption, assets, nutrition and self-reported well-being of the poor, and that it did so better than cash alone. The Village Enterprise program included a cash grant of about $100, classes in business practices, two years of mentoring and a savings group that enabled small-scale entrepreneurs to pool their resources. Graduation programs have been well-studied, notably in a landmark 2015 study of six programs that produced encouraging results. Even Nick Kristof wrote about itContinue reading

The Chronicle of Philanthropy last month published my opinion piece on climate philanthropy. They’ve kindly agreed to let me repost it here.


Governments made promises to reduce their emissions two years ago. They’re falling short.

America’s foundations have poured billions of dollars into the fight against climate change. What do they have to show for their money?

Big environmental grant makers — Hewlett, MacArthur, Moore, Packard, and the rest — can point to a few meaningful victories.

The Energy Foundation laid the groundwork for renewable-energy policies that 29 states have adopted. The ClimateWorks Foundation coordinated work to help developing countries replace polluting refrigerants with efficient, climate-friendly cooling. Bloomberg Philanthropies financed the Sierra Club’s campaign to shut down coal-fired power plants. Foundations have backed educational efforts, ranging from Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth to the Climate Central website, which helped persuade Americans that humans have contributed to climate change and that the government should do more to promote clean energy and take other steps to protect the planet.

But when it comes to U.S. climate policy, grant makers and the environmental nonprofits they support have been stymied. President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord. His EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is dismantling the agency’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. The Republicans who control Congress are hostile to climate action.

Globally, the picture is nearly as grim. In the past two decades, annual emissions of greenhouse gases have grown from the equivalent of 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year to nearly 50 billion, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are rising relentlessly.

If philanthropy is to be judged by its outcomes — and how else should it be judged? — climate philanthropy has failed. The U.S. government is further from acting to curb climate change than it was a decade ago. Without action by the United States, which is an indispensable player on the global stage, it will be all but impossible for the planet to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Robert Brulle, a sociology professor at Drexel University, says: “The big funders have learned way too little from the success of the conservative movement. They’ve spent millions and millions of dollars, and the climate movement, such as it is, continues to fail.” Continue reading

AHYet another prominent animal rights activist is being accused of treating women badly. This time, the spotlight is trained on Alex Hershaft, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, the founder of a pioneering farm-animal protection group and the organizer of the animal rights movement’s oldest and most important conference.

Andrea Jacobson and Cara Frye, who formerly worked for Hershaft, are urging him to cede control of the Animal Rights National Conference, which he has run for more than 35 years. Others–women and men–agree.

“If you want what is best for the movement,” Frye wrote on Hershaft’s Facebook page, “step down from your position of power over the Animal Rights Conference. We need a diverse team of activists co-chairing the conference before it can become a safer, more inclusive meeting space.”

“Should Alex step down as conference chair? Yes, of course,” says pattrice jones, a longtime animal rights activist who has clashed with Hershaft.

She says: “We need a national conference at which every sector of the movement is represented, where attendees actively confer with each other rather than passively listening to movement “stars” pontificate, where everyone has the chance to hear the newest and most innovative ideas while assessing the success (or lack thereof) of ongoing efforts, and where everybody can focus on doing that important work without worrying about being groped or otherwise harassed.”

Hershaft told me that he’s made mistakes but that he is neither sexist nor abusive towards women. His accusers, he said, have an ax to grind. But he also disclosed that he is planning to turn the AR conference over to his longtime associate, Jen Riley, who can lead it, “with my help of course.”

By email, he said: “I dread for the future of our movement, until this hatred and anger calm down.”

The thing is, Hershaft has no one to blame but himself for his current troubles. He set off a firestorm when he posted a comment on Wayne Pacelle’s Facebook page supporting the former chief executive of the Humane Society of the US, who resigned on Feb. 2 amid allegations of sexual harassment:

Women were enraged, and said so. Continue reading

mercy-for-animals-logo-colorThe #metoo problem rocking the animal welfare movement is about more than men who treat women badly and the women who are now speaking out. It’s about toxic cultures, failures of leadership and a lack of accountability.

Last week, it was the Humane Society of the US. This week, it’s Mercy for Animals.

In the last three days, Christina Wilson, who still works at Mercy for Animals, and Jaya Bhumitra, who left in 2016 and now works at Animal Equality, came forward to accuse Nick Cooney, a prominent animal-welfare activist, of harassing and bullying them while he was executive vice president of MFA..

The timeline is important. Wilson’s troubles began in 2016, and Bhumitra’s go back to 2015. Both say they told managers about the problems with Cooney, who left MFA in November, only after donors complained about his behavior.

The women weren’t alone in suffering abuse from Cooney, insiders say. Krista Hiddema, a vice president at MFA, said: “Sadly Christina and Jaya are in good company – there are many other women who have similar experiences with Nick.”

Yesterday [Feb. 8], Nathan Runkle, the founder of MFA, apologized online to all three women, disclosing for the first time that he had asked for Cooney to resign after “a growing number of employees—both male and female—expressed their challenges in working with Nick to me.”

That said, it must be asked: Why was Cooney allowed to get away with his bad behavior for so long? Why did Runkle, the chief executive of MFA until very recently, Matt Rice, who is now the group’s president, Vandhala Bala, its general counsel, and Jake Morton, who oversaw HR, fail to protect women in the organization? To borrow a question made famous by Watergate, what did they know and when did they know it?

Before trying to tackle that question, let’s hear from the women. First, Christina Wilson, whose powerful FB post you can read here:

Nick Cooney’s history of abuse is an open secret, and sadly, a history with which I have firsthand experience.

In the summer of 2016, surrounded by at least a dozen of my coworkers in a large room, Nick ran up to me, gleefully asking who had walked in on him naked earlier that day in our shared accommodations. Finding the accused “voyeur” was quickly turned into a game. He skipped from person to person for a few moments, finally landing on me: “Did you walk in on me? Was it you?” He was drunk, sloppy, and giggling. Mortified, with my face turning noticeably hot, I looked away – he didn’t. “Did you see my penis?” he demanded again and again. His voice was loud, and, while his demeanour seemed giddy, his tone was turning serious. I could feel blood rush to my cheeks as my colleagues and friends turned to watch. Then even louder, he asked: “Do you want to see my penis?” Silence. Finally, he turned and skipped away. Just when I thought the most humiliating moment of my life was over, he called out from the doorway, “If you do, all you have to do is ask!”

She goes on to describe a pattern of bullying.

Throughout the majority of last year, I experienced Nick’s gender-based bullying on a near-daily basis….His actions have dehumanized me, degraded my confidence, devastated my mental health, and made me question my sanity, worth, and competence for the better part of a year.

Jaya Bhumitra’s FB post describes interactions with Cooney that she says were  “fraught with stress and fear, creating an unbearable work climate.” They were not sexual in nature, but, as she notes, sexual harassment is not the only form of abuse that should be prohibited from workplaces. She says about Cooney:

He made me question my worth, ability, and sanity–an experience I have since learned is a pattern among numerous other women who have worked closely with Nick.

–Over time, Nick eroded my confidence by continually finding fault with my work, even when I had followed all his instructions; not listening to me when I spoke; undermining my authority and going over my head regarding decisions that were in my purview; belittling my ideas and contributions; and publicly and purposefully crediting others for my accomplishments.

–Nick behaved abrasively toward me when I refused to implement what I saw as unethical campaign actions, and discouraged me from seeking counsel from the legal or IT departments when I wanted to vet the liability of those actions to protect the organization.

… I was disappointed with how my situation with Nick was handled. I was forthcoming about my discomfort with Nick, and the only concrete attempt at resolution was an hour-long mediation call made at my suggestion, which was ultimately unsuccessful because Nick was unwilling to acknowledge any fault.

Bhumitra writes that told MFA’s leadership team, HR and general counsel  that she was leaving “exclusively because of Nick’s sexism, emotional abuse and bullying.”

By phone yesterday, Bhumitra stressed to me, more than once, that she admires the work of MFA. “I’m friends with many people there, and I want to see them succeed. They are my colleagues in advocacy.” MFA has, in fact, done great undercover work exposing factory farms and built a strong following, particularly among celebrity vegans in Los Angeles, its home base.

But Bhumitra also said that Cooney “left a trail of hurt” because no one stood up to him. “It’s not just the perpetrators of these abuses who are the problem,” she said. “It’s the enablers as well.”

That brings us back to Nathan Runkle and Matt Rice, the guys in charge. Runkle deserves credit for apologizing to the three women, and Rice has put meaningful reforms into place. But it sure looks as if both were slow to confront Cooney, who joined MFA in 2013. Cooney is the founder or co-founder of The Humane League, the Good Food Institute and New Crop Capital. He’s said to be a good fundraiser, and although he’s only in his mid-30s, he’s written three books, including one called How to be Great at Doing Good. Seriously.











[I emailed Cooney yesterday, but have not heard back. and his response is below. In a previous email, he told me he had a “perfectly clean HR record” and high ratings from most of  people who worked for him, while admitting that his directness rubbed some the wrong way. “I need to do a better job of demonstrating caring in my communications,” he said.]

downloadIn a comment posted on the three women’s FB pages, Runkle wrote:

I’m sorry for the pain you experienced working with Nick. I failed you, and for that I offer a sincere apology.

While none of the complaints brought to my attention involved sexual misconduct, over time it became clear to me that Nick’s continued employment at MFA was untenable and contributed to an erosion of morale, trust and a feeling of safety by some within the organization.

About his own failure to act more swiftly, he wrote:

In reflecting upon why I didn’t act sooner I realize that I too was subjected to gas lighting, a lack of information, manipulation, isolation and other tactics that made it difficult for me to see the situation with clarity. Part of my very nature is to trust others and see the best in them. As I’ve reflected, I understand that this spirit was taken advantage of.

Carol Adams, a prominent feminist and animal rights activist, shared with me her reaction to Runkle’s comments.

It’s a welcome beginning. I am sure it was carefully crafted given the situation. It would have been helpful if, given what is being said, it wasn’t a forced resignation, but a firing, so that a message would have been sent and silence would not have been allowed to obfuscate what happened.

As it happens, Adam’s blog, which has become essential reading for anyone interested in sexism in the animal protection movement, had a post yesterday headlined, We need better apologies, guys. Among the advice proffered:

Tell us what you’re sorry for, specifically. Tell us what you did, guys! You can’t own up if nobody knows what you’re owning up to. Do you even know? If you don’t, then make like a Monopoly thimble and Go Back To Start.

Tell us who you’re apologizing to. Who did you hurt? Did you apologize directly to them? If not, you should have. Do it now. I’m not forgiving you until she does, or they do.

Don’t waste our time to tell us, basically, that you’re a human being. “I’ve made some mistakes in my life and I’m trying to do better as I learn more” is not an apology. That’s a pretty common human behavior. Did you also used to be physically smaller when you were an infant?

Yesterday, I emailed Matt Rice with questions. He replied by saying, among other things, that he “like others, had professional challenges working with Nick” and that he “was not in a position of authority to fire or reprimand Nick during his time at the organization.” He described MFA’s commitment to do better, saying the organization has:

  • Implemented significant staffing changes and organizational restructuring to place more women in management, leadership and board positions. This is an ongoing process.
  • Started working with a leading outside consulting firm to improve our organizational health, communication and culture.
  • Adopted a stronger-than-ever anti-harassment and discrimination policy.
  • Expanded our people operations (HR) department to ensure that all staff receive support and opportunities for dialogue and growth. We also are implementing HR staffing changes and hiring a new head of HR, as well as supporting roles.
  • Resolved to hold training for all staff on additional steps and resources for preventing harassment and bullying and promoting actions that create an inclusive, safe working environment.
  • Will regularly be examining our workplace culture through anonymous, quarterly all-staff surveys.

Right about now you may be wondering, where was the board of MFA during all this? Good question! The board used to consist of Runkle, Rice and Derek Coons, who with Runkle co-founded Mercy for Animals. No independent directors. No women or people of color. Since then, Vandhana Bala, MFA’s general counsel, has replaced Rice. Still no outsiders. Rice tells me that MFA is recruiting new board members, adding: “Diversity on the board is of utmost importance to us.” To which one must ask, since when?

You may also wonder whether anyone other than Cooney has paid a price for the suffering of Christina Wilson and Jaya Bhumitra and others. Good question, again! Not Nathan Runkle, who’s chairing the board. Not Matt Rice, Vandhana Bala or Jake Morton. Any one of whom could have stood up sooner to say, enough is enough–but didn’t.

Update: Matt Rice and Nick Cooney respond

Matt Rice, president of MFA, felt that I was unfair to him, and to Vandhana Bala and Jake Morton in this post. He points, in particular, to the last sentence, and says that, in fact, he and his colleagues did stand up:

Assuming you read Nathan’s apology and saw that he admitted that Vandhana, Jake and I had been among the most vocal in getting rid of Nick because of complaints about his behavior, why did you craft this narrative that we did nothing? Nathan admitted that Vandhana, me and Jake all stood up and were very vocal on this issue.

I should not have implied that Matt, Vandhana and Jake did nothing. I should have been more specific, and simply said that their protests were ineffective.

Nick Cooney also emailed to say:

I had disagreements about what made for good communication and culture with a few other senior leaders, primarily the people Nathan named – Matt, Jake and Vandhana. They didn’t like some of my ideas on strategy and on candor in communication, and i didn’t like some of the ways that they were communicating with others and some of the things I saw certain senior leaders getting away with. That’s why me leaving MFA seemed like the best thing to do.

I posted the below in reply to Christina’s post on Facebook, but it seems she deleted it.

Christina, I am absolutely shocked and saddened to read this. I feel the need to reply at least in brief.

First, let me say that if you feel what you are saying here, I am very sorry that I contributed to it. I have never had any sense that anything I did as a manager made you feel negative in any way. I never heard any negative feedback or concerns from you along these lines, nor from anyone else in relation to you, until reading this post today.

In regards to the group conversation you are talking about, where you say I asked a bunch of people including you if they had walked in on me naked, let me please add context and correction. This exchange happened around midnight one night with a whole bunch of people hanging out, as you stated. What you don’t mention is the context, and maybe you weren’t aware of this context. Shortly before, Jenny*  had made up a rumor that someone had walked in on me when I was naked. It was a joke – no one had – but she told this to a bunch of people in the presence of me and several others who were hanging out as a group. One of the people in our group was Karen*, who either believed it was true, or decided to pretend she believed it was true (I’m not sure which). Karen began questioning a lot of people – basically everyone we crossed paths with for the next hour – to ask if they were the one who had walked in on me and saw my penis. These were her words, and she was the one going around asking people that question, including the group of a dozen or so people you were a part of. It is true that at times I played along with Jenny and Karen’s joke, asking things like “was it you?” “were you the one?” to the people in the big group that Karen was questioning, which included you. But that’s the only sort of thing that I said. I was playing along with their joke to be silly. In hindsight, clearly it was stupid of me to do so, and I’m terribly, terribly sorry if my doing so made you or anyone else in the big group that was there feel uncomfortable. I had indeed been drinking (as had the others in our group), and I hope I would not have played along with it if I had not been. [By the way, i am not blaming or criticizing Jenny or Karen. They were just being silly and doing a running joke. Me taking part in it was my own choice.]

In regards to our work interaction, it’s harder for me to respond because two people could see the same interaction dramatically differently, and I do see ours in a dramatically different fashion than you represent in your post. (Particularly because we rarely interacted – we spoke maybe once a month on average, or twice a month tops, since there were two layers of managers between us.) I know that I have a very direct way of communicating; I grew up with family who communicates that way, I like when people communicate with me that way, and to me it seems the most efficient way to share and debate ideas—and so that’s how I’d gotten used to communicating with others. I think many people appreciate that. When I did an anonymous survey of everyone I oversaw, on the day that I left MFA, the average score I got for the key question of “overall, how was your experience working with me?” was an 8.6 on a scale of 1 to 10. For women the average answer to that question was an 8.5 .  Several people said that my directness was one of the things they liked. (I shared links to all of those survey results, including the negative feedback, in my email to Marc for his blog post.) Still, I know that for some people, that style of communication comes across very badly and does not sit well. I’m sorry that it came across that way for you and had a negative impact on you.

I do strongly disagree with some of your characterizations and assumptions about my motivations and intentions. But rather than get into that, let me just say that I greatly appreciate all the good work that you have done, and I truly wish I had known you felt any of these things you are saying here now. The last thing I want is to cause you or anyone else to feel the way you describe. If there are any specific suggestions that you or anyone reading this has for how I can be better at communicating, I welcome them and will try to improve. If there is something else you would like me to do, please let me know.

More to come, alas, but not until after the weekend, I hope.
* I have changed the names in Nick’s response at the request of the women, who say that they “apologized deeply to Christina and took responsibility for not shutting down a joke that got out of hand.”

1005-alternate-2-440x400“Most donors don’t think their way into giving to charity.”

So writes Al Cantor, a smart guy and a veteran of the nonprofit world.

“I give from my heart – and my observation is that most other donors do the same thing,” he goes on to say. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Sorry, Al, but no. Something is wrong. Incentives matter. So long as people give from the heart and not the head, charities will have good reason to invest in emotional appeals — photos of smiling children or adorable puppies — and they will feel less pressure to work harder to make a meaningful, measurable and demonstrable difference in people’s lives.

To be sure, the reality is that most people today give with their hearts. But we should no more accept that than we should accept the reality of global poverty, preventable diseases, crappy schools or climate change. Indeed, one way to alleviate those problems is to encourage people give more thoughtfully.

But how?

Donor-advised funds can help.

Donor-advised funds, a.k.a. DAFs, are the fastest growing part of the charitable sector. Six of the top 10 fundraising organizations in the US in 2016 were managers of donor-advised funds, led by the charitable arms of Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Schwab and Vanguard, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Sometimes described as rest stops for charitable dollars, DAFs have major drawbacks because they enable people — typically the very wealthy — to avoid taxes, without requiring them to distribute their money for charitable purposes. (See The Undermining of American Charity, by Lewis B. Cullman and Ray Madoff.) Yet donor-advised funds have one decided advantage over conventional giving: They separate the decision of whether to give to charity from the decision of where to give. Continue reading

maxresdefaultScandal? Tragedy? Farce?

It’s been a roller-coaster week for the Humane Society of the US (HSUS), for the women who work there and for the animals they care about. But the controversy over sexual harassment that rocked the organization came to a climax on Friday afternoon when Wayne Pacelle, the chief executive of HSUS since 2004, resigned his position, effective immediately.

Pacelle stepped down less than 24 hours after HSUS’s 31-member board called off an investigation into his workplace conduct and voted to keep him on the job, despite evidence that he treated women badly and then lied about his actions. The board vote came even as major donors were asking the board to hold Pacelle accountable, not only for his actions but for a workplace culture that allowed the behavior of Paul Shapiro, a top HSUS executive whose conduct was exposed earlier in the week in an investigative story in Politico.

Now the board needs to be held accountable for its action, which has done untold damage to the Humane Society brand and the animal-welfare cause.

In an email to HSUS staff on Friday, Pacelle wrote:

We need to come together.  Our mission depends on unity. For that reason, I am recommending that the board launch a search for a successor.  I am resigning, effective immediately, to allow that process to move forward expeditiously and to put aside any distractions, in the best interests of all parties.

It’s very fitting that Kitty Block, a fabulous and highly qualified advocate, will now server as acting president and CEO. She’s been a cherished colleague to many of us here for nearly a quarter century.

A swift and forceful reaction to the board vote that spurred Pacelle’s departure:

–Seven HSUS board members quit in protest.

–Major donors said they would withdraw or reconsider their support.

–Two of Pacelle’s accusers went public with their charges. Others surfaced.

–HSUS’s top lobbyist in California, Jennifer Fearing, ended her contract with the group.

–A nonprofit that rates charities amended its evaluation of HSUS.

Dozens of HSUS staff members, meanwhile, organized into a by-invitation-only Facebook group to decide how to effectively voice their unhappiness. Continue reading