Cheers and Jeers
In January, I wrote about a frustrating experience I had in trying to join the monthly giving program of a major nonprofit organization. Not long after the issue mailed, I got a warm message from Kenny Allen, Internet direct-marketing specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, assuring me that, “We are working diligently … to address each and every one of the items you raised in your editorial, as well as a few others.”
I applaud the folks at St. Jude for taking the initiative to find out if it was their organization that was the topic of my column (it was) and for letting me know that my opinion not only was heard but valued. Isn’t that the heart and soul of good DRM?
In a perfect world, St. Jude and every other organization would get it right from the get-go. But in a perfect world, most nonprofits wouldn’t exist at all. In our not-so-perfect world, we do the best with what we have. For fundraisers, a huge part of that means listening to your donors, responding to them and showing them the respect they deserve. So … kudos, St. Jude.
On the other side of the coin, however, is a story that I’m sure you’ve heard about by now — the Salvation Army USA Western Territory’s attempt to have Greenpeace removed from the list of eight organizations to which the late H. Guy Di Stefano bequeathed equal portions of his more than $260 million estate.
The story’s been all over the Internet since The New York Times ran it on Feb. 3. In short, one of the beneficiaries was listed as Greenpeace International Inc., an entity that was dissolved in 2005 and that named the Greenpeace Fund as its “successor-in-interest.” The Salvation Army is arguing that since the organization as named in Di Stefano’s will technically no longer exists, the remaining beneficiaries should split its share of the estate.
There are technicalities and other issues at play here (including an ironic twist that would argue that if the Salvation Army wins its fight, it should be the Eastern rather than Western Territory that gets its share of the money). But it seems clear that Di Stefano wanted his wealth to support the work of Greenpeace and that the Salvation Army is putting greed ahead of donor intent, even as it uses donor intent as its rallying cry.
Nonprofit fundraising is an industry that must prove itself, over and over, every day — despite the good work it does. When one of the world’s largest organizations — and a Christian one, at that — presents itself as a money-grubbing, every-man-for-himself Leviathan, it does a major disservice to the sector as a whole. I hope that by the time this issue goes to press, the Salvation Army will have recognized its wrong-headedness. The best it can do now is drop the lawsuit, accept its fair share of the bequest with grace and gratitude, and join its fellow beneficiaries in honoring a generous soul by continuing the work — all of the work — that he so strongly supported.