Five years ago, parents of sixth-grade students at Washington D.C.’s Bruce-Monroe elementary school wept for joy when a local philanthropist promised a free college education to any of the class’s students who graduated from high school. Now that many of the students are high school seniors, they may still be weeping-but it isn’t from joy. It turns out that there are no scholarships. Would-be donor George Abel admits that his Phoenix Foundation was never able to raise the money necessary to pay for the scholarships, and was shut down a few years ago. Trouble is, he never told the students or their parents. According to the Washington Post, “the students, their parents and the school’s former principal are asking the same question: Why would someone make such a significant promise without having the money in hand? In an interview, Abel said that was a ‘good question’ to which he had no answer.” Abel’s “generosity” was inspired by reading about donors who made similar offers to other schools. The families, many of whom had been counting on those scholarships and had not saved any money for college, are dismayed. “That’s real wrong,” said 18-year-old Kevin Webb. “That’s what I had my future based on.” Then came the perfect gift: Hundreds of people who read the news story stepped up to offer amounts ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand. Joseph E. Robert Jr., head of an organization called Fight for Children, said his charity would guarantee any tuition costs not covered by other sources. “I hope it helps them restore what’s been a shattered dream over the last couple of days,” he said.
He Who Hesitates Loses Grants
Twelve years ago, Boston University President John Silber made a pitch to area philanthropist David Mugar. The school needed to upgrade its library, which bore the name of Mugar’s father, but it was going to be costly. If the school didn’t renovate the current library, they’d have to build a new one—and there was no guarantee that the new one would bear the Mugar name. So, after that lobster lunch back in 1988, Mugar agreed to shell out $3 million for a library upgrade. Then, according to the Boston Globe, “Mugar waited for the fundraising to follow. Waited for the architectural plans. And waited. And waited. Now, after years of informal inquiries through friends at BU, Mugar is waiting no more. Mugar’s attorney, Joel Kozol, has written BU that Mugar wants his money back-plus interest.”
When some people get that charitable impulse during the holiday season, their thoughts naturally turn toward . . . blowing stuff up. That appears to be the conclusion reached by the folks at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center, who are raffling off the opportunity to blow up the city’s aging athletic stadium. Demolition-minded donors can buy $10 charity raffle tickets that will go to benefit the Center; the lucky winner gets to push a plunger setting off charges that will destroy the eight-story concrete stadium that has been the long-time home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Center hopes to sell 100,000 raffle tickets, raising $1 million in the process.
The Hits Just Keep on Coming
After the failure of pro-voucher ballot initiatives in California and Michigan, state-supported school choice programs took another hit when a federal appeals court upheld a district court ruling striking down an Ohio program. The voucher program had been operating in Cleveland for the past four years, but the court upheld the lower court’s ruling that the program violated the separation of church and state. Both sides in the case predict that the United States Supreme Court will take up the inevitable appeal.
Into the Breach
But even if the state won’t fund them, private donors apparently will. A Colorado developer and proponent of education reform has promised to pay for the private school tuition of all students at a local elementary school whose parents’ incomes fall below the poverty level. Steve Schuck, a co-chairman of Coloradoans for School Choice, explains to the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph that the purpose of his gift is “to empower parents to make whatever decisions are best for their children. Poor parents have children stuck in poorly performing schools and don’t have the resources to do anything about their dilemma.” Parents were delighted with the offer. “‘Wow,’ said Donna Kresky, a parent of three kids at [the school], hearing the idea for the first time. ‘What is this man’s name?’ She then scribbled Schuck’s name and phone number on the palm of her hand. ‘I went to a private school growing up,’ she said. ‘It’s something I wish I could afford for my kids.’”
In mid-December, a Florida chapter of the Shriners was feeling like it had been “Grinched.” Someone had broken into the chapter’s meeting hall and had stolen all the toys and Christmas decorations the group had accumulated for needy and sick children. But, in true American “It’s a Wonderful Life” fashion, local folks who heard about the theft responded by showering the Shriners with toys and presents for the children. On the weekend after a story about the theft appeared in the Miami Herald, people bearing armfuls of toys showed up at the meeting hall to drop off presents. At times, there was even a line of well-wishers waiting to drop off gifts. One anonymous donor, identified only as a previous Florida lottery winner who was touched by the story, sent a volunteer to the local Wal-Mart with instructions to buy the kids $2,000 worth of toys (eleven shopping carts’ worth). “The kids are even going to have a little something extra in their stockings this year—it’s amazing,” marveled a spokesman for the group.
Celebrated online giving destination The Hunger Site, meanwhile, ended up with little more than a lump of coal in its stocking. Last year at this time, the site was attracting as many as eight million visits a month, with each visit directing money to a UN food program. Advertisers got the “eyeballs” of net-savvy viewers, users were able to “donate” without spending a penny, and the UN was hauling in thousands of dollars. As reported in The New York Times, “everyone was happy.” They aren’t so happy anymore. The UN has abruptly ended its relationship with The Hunger Site, citing tardiness of payments. And traffic is down on the site, partly as a result of the success of imitator sites.
Picking up the Pieces
Ever wonder what’s happening to all the office equipment and furniture that belonged to those once high-flying dot-coms that have recently become dot-bombs? The more charitably-minded ex-entrepreneurs are giving the debris of their crashed companies to nonprofits. One witness to this phenomenon has been Lisa Gautier, CEO of ExcessAccess.com, a San Francisco group that, according to Wired magazine, “links nonprofits seeking office supplies with companies and individuals looking to get rid of them.” Gautier says that contributions were rising all last year, but have really surged lately. “At first we thought: ‘Hey, we’re becoming really successful. People love us and donating is becoming really popular.’ Then it dawned on us that there was a certain desperation in donor messages, and that it was the economy, not our outreach expertise, that was bringing in more customers.”
Last year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to sick and dying children, came under fire for granting hunting-related wishes. Seems that even if hunting was what the kids wanted, it wasn’t so high on the wish list of the animals involved. But America is the land of opportunity, and where there’s a demand, even in the nonprofit niche, it’s never long before an enterprising soul steps in to fill it. In this case the enterprising soul is rocker-turned-gun-rights advocate Ted Nugent. According to the Associated Press, Nugent is leading a hunting safari for the new “Hunt of a Lifetime” nonprofit. “Make-A-Wish just makes me want to puke my guts out,” says Nugent, who is taking 16-year-old Zachary Martin, who suffers from bone cancer, to South Africa next summer to bow-hunt zebra, warthogs, and impala.
Down with Up With People
The clean-cut youth group Up With People is being shuttered. Faced with mounting financial losses, the organization’s board of directors voted to lay off the nonprofit’s entire 226-member staff. A spokesman for the group said that while this year’s performances were considered among their best, donors balked at funding an outfit that was losing so much money. The Denver Post concludes that the internationalist, optimism-oriented program’s heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s, but that “in an era of Internet connectivity, satellite-dish television and cynical teenagers, the group faced declining audiences.”
Be Prepared - For Employee Backlash
That Boy Scouts controversy continues. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, software giant Novell Inc., “stung by reaction to its decision to stop matching employee donations to the Boy Scouts of America because of the organization’s ban on gay scoutmasters, is scrapping dollar-for-dollar donations to other charities.” From now on, the company will only match its employees’ charity grants when they are made to the United Way. The decision came a week after the company announced that it would no longer match grants to the Boy Scouts-only to be met with angry reactions from employees and the public. Novell then issued an apology letter expressing regret for “any perceived ill will toward the Boy Scouts of America.”
Giving at the Speed of Light
Moore’s Law states that the speed of computer processors doubles every 18 months. Moore’s law of charitable giving appears to move even faster. Gordon and Betty Moore have announced that they are donating $5 billion to their new foundation, which would quickly establish it as the eighth largest foundation in the country. The foundation, funded by the Intel co-founder and his wife, will be located in San Francisco and will fund medical and scientific research. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Moore explained to the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s hard work to give money away intelligently.” Moore hopes the foundation’s staff, which will eventually number between 50 and 100, will be “entrepreneurial” with the money, but he is taking a characteristically low-key approach: “You’ve got to do something with it. If you don’t give it away, the government will take most of it. There is only so much that makes sense to give to your kids.”