Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ice-Bucketry, Marinara Sauce and other late summer Nonprofit News

With Labor Day September 1, the days of summer, as in vacation time, have slipped, slipped, slipped away. It's time to sum up some news gathered here in between errant golf shots and eating peaches.

The biggest item is the phenomenal success of the "Ice-Bucket Challenge" benefitting the ALS Association. ALS (Amyotrophic Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is the devastating condition  that attacks nerve cells in the brain. The challenge is directed at social media and here's how it works. Someone dumps a bucket of ice water on you and you challenge friends to follow suit or donate $100 to the ALS Association  or both, all of which is captured on video and posted online.

Well, the idea created a firestorm ( bad image I admit for ice water) and thousands, from celebrities to neighbors, have taken the challenge and been videoed, some shrieking, all soaked. A stunt? Yes, but one that has succeeded amazingly for its beneficiary. From July 29 through  August 28, the ALS Association received $88.5 million in donations compared to $2.6 million for the same period last year - and it's still growing. Wow.

Why the success? First the idea is ideally suited to social media and going "viral. " Secondly it does have a social benefit for the charity. But most of all it is fun, reminiscent  of the school fair where you bought a chance to dunk the principal in a tub. We can all use some fun these days - with news of earthquakes, wildfires, beheadings and Ebola outbreaks.

Not surprisingly many nonprofits are scrambling to come up with similar and productive gimmicks to emulate the ice-bucket idea. One has suggested a pie-in-the-face, but that may be too messy and expensive. One imaginative scheme comes from a Palestinian journalist who wants to bring to greater attention the plight of citizens in Gaza. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. he states water is too precious to Gazans. Instead he urges dumping on heads a bucket of rubble, such as  can be seen in images of bombed-out buildings there. Sand or dirt will do, if rubble is not available.

Meanwhile the ALS Association  has contacted the various charity rating organizations, such as GuideStar, to say the windfall might affect the program/administrative expenses  ratio those outfits use to rate charities. The Association may not be able to spend program funds fast enough. I say take your time. Don't spend just to satisfy that index, which increasingly is coming under scrutiny (see my post of October 2012).

Other news. A ruling by a D.C. Superior Court judge on August 17 cleared  the way for the dissolution of the Corcoran Gallery of Art as an independent institution, allowing the merger with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. Judge Robert Okun turned aside the suit by Corcoran supporters that suggested the current board, with better fundraising, could save the Gallery. Not likely, the judge - and others - said. I have covered this sad story a number of times here  (first post of October 2012).

The Metropolitan Opera reached agreement with the last of its 16 unions on August 17 after successful negotiations with its orchestra, chorus and stagehands. It was a close call, but with the help of a Federal mediator and ultimately a spirit of conciliation on the part of all parties, the season is expected to open on schedule in late September. Unusual in the agreements is the concept of "equality of sacrifice."  The monetary value of cuts to labor will be matched by cuts on management's side. This was, if you will allow me, an ensemble success.

Finally, almost every week I read of some embezzlement horror at a non-profit. For instance, in mid August a pastor in Oklahoma was accused of stealing $933,000 from his own church.  Here's another twist. Ralph "Buddy" Cianci is a famous- or infamous - politician in Rhode Island. Since 1975, he has  been Mayor of Providence twice. Both terms ended in felony convictions and he spent five years in Federal prison. At age 73, he is running for the office again. Recently the Associated Press reported on the  product he markets - the "Mayor's Own Marinara Sauce." Its label prominently states proceeds would benefit Providence school children. The AP report revealed there have never been any contributions to the scholarship fund,  as from 2009 to 2012 the sauce had made a total of $3 in income. Three dollars - not much help for the school children, but we can welcome Hizzoner to the ranks of nonprofits,

I hope your summer was pleasant and restful. Comments on this post and others always welcome.