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Archive for the ‘Non Profit’ Category

What will you give up for Lent?

In Church and State, Gratitude, Holidays, Non Profit on February 15, 2010 at 8:45 am

As Christians celebrate their last few days before Lent, a traditional period of sacrifice, we move toward voluntary austerity in our lives. We prayerfully reflect for 40 days in remembrance of the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the desert. We celebrate at the beginning of the season to use up the fat and meat in preparation, hence the terms Fat Tuesday or Carnival, (farewell to meat as a literal translation). We celebrate at the end of the season with the joyful resurrection of Jesus. The forty days are book-ended with festivity, as if the forty days were endless, instead of a moment in time. 

What if everyday of life was a struggle with poverty and hunger?  What if you were homeless? What if you lost your job? What if you had drug-addicted parents? What if the conditions of your life were not chosen, but merely a circumstance of birth? 

These are scenarios all too familiar. Today, 49 million people around the nation will be hungry. It is all too easy for those of us with full bellies to complacently become what I consider the “but I’s”. What I mean by that is our attempt to explain how we would combat lack of income, but I… would never let my family go hungry, would find a job, and would do whatever it took, would not sit back and accept charity, and would pick myself up by the bootstraps… ad infinitum”.

Many of us have an inner dialogue that assumes what we would do before we went hungry. It is very easy to fall into that trap of making someone else’s problems about us. In our attempt to understand, we assume. 

It is very easy to turn away from giving with an open hand because we work hard for what we have and why should we give to someone who has never worked as we have? Why should we share what we earned rightfully? I have been tempted to add my name to a statement “make drug tests mandatory to get welfare”. It makes sense, of course. Why should someone who is doing something illegal receive the fruits of my labor? Then I wonder, what about their children? Should the children suffer because their parents make irresponsible choices? Should a child go hungry?

Much of what Jesus preached just did not make sense. Sell your possessions. Love the least among us. If you have two dollars, give one to your brother. There are no conditions attached to the call to be generous. There are no tests, hoops to jump through, or forms to sign. The call is simply to share. As Christians, we are saved by the gift of grace, we do nothing to deserve the gift, but it is ours.

As we spend the Lenten season choosing to give something up, choosing to reflect, wouldn’t it be something incredible if for 40 days, we chose to give up conditions for generosity? What if we simply give as Jesus gave, without question of merit or deserving-ness. What if we stopped thinking what we would do in such a situation and instead truly asked, What Would Jesus Do?



Haiti’s Heroes

In Non Profit on January 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm

“Never stop being courageous.”

These were the last words I wrote to my sponsored child, Anne-Cherley Amilcar, in a letter I composed after hearing about the earthquake in Haiti. Anne-Cherely is Haitian and although she lives nearly 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince, we continue to wait with bated breath for word of her safety. The entire country, already in peril from abject poverty, has been hurled even further into a miserable horror that threatens every human being within its boundaries. Though all are vulnerable to great suffering, the greatest vulnerability belongs to the Haitian children. Prior to the earthquake, the number of orphaned children in Haiti was estimated at nearly 450,000. It is unconscionable to even try to comtemplate an increase in such a number, but the post-quake increase is certain.

Fortunately, there are heroic organizations, such as Compassion International, who have been attempting to assist the needs of Haiti’s impoverished children over the course of many years and have done so with much success. It was through C.I. that we found our Anne-Cherley and it is through them that we will continue to offer our support. They are going to need it. There will be childhood development centers that will need to be rebuilt and sadly, staff and volunteer positions that will need to be refilled. For those who are longing to offer some kind of support to Haiti, this is definitely a trustworthy and nobel organization to consider.

Of equal standing as a highly effective and reputable outreach to Haitian orphans is a non-profit called Danita’s Children. The organization began over ten years ago when Danita Estrella spontaneously traveled to Haiti with nothing more than a strong sense that she was supposed to go there to offer help. She had no idea how to implement her desire but she knew she was purposed to go. After a year of wandering from volunteer position to volunteer position, she was still unsettled. There was a haunting sense that she was not walking out the level of service that was rooted in her heart.

But the ambiguity of her journey vanished on a day emblazened in her memory forever.

As the story goes, she was sitting at a café table eating her food when she suddenly felt the imploring stare of an underfed boy fall upon her. She looked over and lifted her hand to signal that she saw his need and wanted him to wait for her. Her intent was to order him food and then take it to him, however, there was a man who saw this interchange and became enraged at the boy. He took a whip and began to strike the child. Danita, busy ordering the food, heard his screams and instincively shot up from the table and ran to the child’s rescue. She grabbed the brutal man by his collar and shook him with all her might and then ran to the boy, picked him up, comforted him and bought him food to eat. It was then that she knew her purpose. She decided right then and there that she would open an orphanage for abandoned children.

What began with a small plate of food for a hungry frightened child has developed into three homes that house 75 orphans, a school that provides education to nearly 600 children and a meal program that feeds 17,000 each month. As glorious as all that is, Danita has refused to rest. Right now, her organization is in the midst of building their very first children’s medical center. It is without a doubt that when that mission is completed, Danita will continue to create even more paths of provision for Haiti’s children.

Danita is my hero and it is because of people like her, those who have committed themselves to serving the needs of Haiti’s most vulnerable regardless of personal cost, it is because of such people that I was able to write words of strength to Anne-Cherley. Heroes have great courage and I pray for our little girl to hold onto hers.

The courageous will find each other.


Should Trust Be Enforced?

In Non Profit on December 4, 2009 at 8:58 am

I recently saw a documentary called Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington. Filmmaker Jonathan Schneider wanted to take a close look at the money-engine of D.C. to see how it corrupts our political process. From a conservative couch, I fully expected a heavy liberal bias where all the democrats are heroes and republicans are Lex Luthors but Mr. S, although obviously left-leaning, at least made a decent attempt at casting the blame on both sides of the partisan line. Because of this, I listened and listening made me want to do some more reading which lead me to Jack Abramoff which introduced me to a legal term I had never given much thought of until now: Honest Services Fraud.

Honest Services Fraud is defined as a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services. Seems vague doesn’t it? Turns out, the nebulous nature of the definition is by design in order to give far reaching powers to prosecutors who use it with regularity as a barbed-wire-broom-of-justice. Consequently, its use is highly controversial as explained in excellent detail by Gary S. Chafetz in his article The Fraud of Honest-Services Fraud.

Chafetz lays out his criticism quite nicely but I confess, I’m happy to know this legal tool exists and regardless of its misty definition, I see it as a way to slap the unethical hand of those who dare to betray our public trust. For those, like Mr. Chafetz, who are disturbed by the lack of coherency provided by the redundant wording, I’d like to offer up a new one to clarify the HSF term. Honest Services Fraud: A scheme or artifice created for personal gain at the expense of a trusting supporter.

If political servants must adhere to ethical practices that maintain the public trust, shouldn’t non-profit organizations also be subject to the same legal sway? As far as I know, HSF is almost exclusively used in the political arena with only a scant track record of force in the private sector. The non-profit sphere, however, seems to remain unaffected. Sure, there are plenty of legal restrictions in place to convict non-profits for misappropriations, but in regards to the establishment of ethical relationships as related to the trust of donor donations, the enforcement mechanism does not exist.

To impress my point, non-profits are permitted to create for-profit entities with the intent of generating a money-making-engine that provides the non-profit with a flow of dependable donated income. That is absolutely legal, and one that I fully support. However, to my knowledge, there are no legal restraints that force consistency between the mission of the non-profit and the activities of their established for-profit-entity. Therefore, it would be perfectly legal for Susan B. Komen, the leading center for cancer research, to set up a for-profit entity that manufactures tobacco. It would be legal, but certainly void of ethics. Not only would they be allowed to formulate such a system, they would not be required to tell their donors that the relationship exists.

Do I think Susan B. Koman would do such a thing? No. Do I think there should be legal ramifications for those who would? I’m definitely leaning toward yes.

I spoke with a friend of mine about this who is a grant writer and he warned me that the implementation of such a suggestion could possibly do more damage than good. He pointed out that the non-profit sector is already burdened by so many regulations that he fears another one like HSF would do more to prohibit great services than ensure them. I definitely see his point and come on, I’m a conservative so I’m supposed to abhor regulations, right? Maybe a better compromise on the issue would be to force full disclosure rather than regulate the relationship between the two separate entities. I don’t know exactly what the solution should be but I do know that if you gain my money by persuading me to support a particular ideological mission only to use my money in a way that contradicts the mission you convinced me to support, I’m not going to be happy about.