December 31, 2010

The nonprofit and politics - how much is too much?

It's encouraging that so many current conversations are focused on the future of philanthropy, integration with social media, and non-profit horizons. In this last week of 2010, amid the postal flurry of end-year fundraising appeals, it's also worth remembering the little things that make us worthy of all those big thoughts.  (CONTINUED)
5. In our succession of election cycles and partisanship, philanthropists and nonprofit executives are frequently called upon to lend their own names to support candidates and causes. Are there limits or caveats to safeguard the charitable mission and avoid abuse?

Even distinguished leaders of organizations, whether volunteer or staff, should realize that (a) any fame derives partly or completely from their association with their organization, and/or that (b) they at least have a responsibility to protect the organization’s reputation. A 501(c)3 charity, especially one to which others are contributing time and funds, does not “belong” to any individual.
To avoid the misuse of an organization’s good name, executives should refrain from publicly supporting political causes, foreign or domestic, even if they don’t mention their affiliation. If an organization decides institutionally to support such a cause, then listing an individual as the organization’s representative is perfectly appropriate and understood. 
Lay leaders using their affiliation to sign public letters should emphasize when this is only for “identification purposes” – at the very least. Ideally, they should never list their affiliation for personal gain, political or financial. Anyone who needs to list such an affiliation is obviously not a public personality in his/her own right, and is understood to be trading on the privilege of public service. 

The signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence concluded to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” That might be a reasonable test of what really drives someone to support any cause, political or charitable. Sacred honor is a rare asset, and possibly the most valuable resource anyone can bring to a nonprofit endeavor.

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