I’m all for creative sentencing. I still remember being moved by the wisdom of a judge I read about years ago who ordered a young driver who had been drinking and caused a fatal accident to pay restitution to his victim’s family — in the form of a $100 check sent each year for 20 years on the anniversary of the crash.
I don’t know how that all played out, but I can’t imagine that boy ever forgot the devastation he caused in a moment of carelessness and bad judgment.
I was reminded of that old case when I read about Craig Miller, the Minnesota man who pleaded guilty to illegally baiting and killing a black bear — news of which came to me via a recent post on the Don’t Tell the Donor blog. As part of his punishment, the hunter was required to give a $500 donation to PETA.
At first glance, it seems to make sense. PETA got a “free” donation (in terms of solicitation time and effort), and a rogue hunter was forced to think, at least momentarily, about the organization’s work.
Chances are, Miller will write his check and forget about PETA. Chances are, he won’t go on to become a major donor or a vocal advocate for the organization, and he probably won’t change his mind about hunting. But there was some degree of education involved.
But at what cost? Do we really want to force people to give? Do we really want to have philanthropy viewed as punishment?
Nonprofit organizations have enough working against them without being stigmatized as something the public might be required to support as part of a sentence for a crime committed. Forced philanthropy flies in the face of the growing tide in nonprofit fundraising that recognizes donors as vital partners who give because it’s empowering, important, and one way to make their voices heard and support the causes that touch them deeply.