St. Joseph's Indian School Responds to CNN's 'Fictitious Kids' Claims
On Monday, CNN ran a story stating that St. Joseph's Indian School used fundraising letters "signed by fictitious kids," bringing about questions of ethics for the Chamberlain, South Dakota-based organization that serves Lakota (Sioux) children and families.
The school, whose mission is to educate Native American youth in mind, body, heart and spirit, responded to the report. Here is an excerpt of St. Joseph's Indian School's response:
CNN: “Stories of fake students. Josh Little Bear is not a true person.”
FALSE: The stories we share in our mailings are absolutely true. However, in order to protect the privacy of the children, we do not use their real names in our letters to supporters. CNN’s argument rests on saying the stories are made up. We repeatedly explained this to the executive producer, but he refused to listen.
CNN: “On the advice of their attorney, the school refused any further comment.”
FALSE: Though we did not consent to an on-camera interview, we did offer, several times, to answer any questions they had in writing. Disappointingly, CNN did not submit such questions. We knew the messages in a taped interview would be taken out of context, exactly as they intentionally did with our mailings.
CNN: “St. Joseph’s Indian school continues to rake in a small fortune in donations.” The onscreen graphic showed $122,185,395.
FALSE: This misleading figure shown in the story is the sum of our total assets. This includes a school building for grades 1-8; twenty homes where the children live; the acreage our campus resides on; a fleet of vehicles; investment funds for our gift annuitants and other items.
CNN: “The fact is that the money is being used for the right reasons. Two hundred Native American children are going to this boarding school, they seem happy, well-fed and housed.”
TRUE: CNN got this part of the story correct. And for that we are grateful.
While you can debate the merits of both sides all you want, the way St. Joseph's Indian School handled the situation is admirable and appropriate. In response to negative press that did not shed light on the whole story, the organization responded quickly and emphatically, providing transparency to its donors, supporters and the public.
At some point or another, chances are negative press or views will crop up for just about every nonprofit. It's how the organization reacts and communicates with donors that makes the difference. St. Joseph's Indian School clearly understands this, and with nonprofits getting scrutinized more and more, such cases will continue to arise.
Take a page out of St. Joseph's Indian School's book and react accordingly if and/or when your organization faces a similar circumstance.