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Popular Blogger Challenges Nonprofit

By Brian Walsh on March 9, 20074 Comments

Andrew_sullivan A
blogger with a large audience has used his platform to challenge one of the nation’s
largest nonprofit organizations devoted to gay rights.  In a series of posts, popular blogger Andrew
, himself a gay man and equal rights advocate, has challenged the
effectiveness of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which describes itself as "America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender equality.”

to both the HRC Foundation’s Charity Navigator rating (with one out of four
stars overall and
zero out of four stars for efficiency) as well as the
Foundation’s latest IRS 990 forms, Sullivan publicly challenged t
organization to
respond to questions “about their operation, what it spends,
how it spends it, and what achievements they have won for the money.”  He also encouraged readers to review the
financial information and submit their own questions. 

be sure, Sullivan’s criticisms about the HRC not only about the
nonprofit’s fundraising and financial  management; rather, he’s
questioning the nonprofit’s track record in achieving its stated
objectives of achieving equality.

HRC responded that they “are committed to the transparency of the organization.
Ninety-three percent of our total income comes from individuals, reflecting the
importance of our work as seen by the broader community, and it is important
they understand how their dollars are being put to work.”  The nonprofit then went on to detail how the
expenses from their recent capital campaign – to raise money for a headquarters
building in Washington, D.C.
– was the reason for their low rating. 

a gay-rights organization with nearly 600,000 members now has to answer to a
gay-rights blogger who has an estimated 60,000 daily readers.  This episode raises the power of blogs and
other new technologies, which are forcing nonprofits to be more open about
their operations, holding them accountable not only to their financial supporters,
but also an increasingly skeptic (and engaged) public.

Is this the future of nonprofit transparency?  Public fights online between multi-million dollar nonprofit organizations and self-styled online watchdogs? 

According to
Sullivan, the nonprofit has “asked for a private meeting with me. I’d rather
bring a few thousand readers along.”

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  • Amicus says:

    Sadly, it is not easy to trust Andrew’s motivations on this, for me.
    In fact, Andrew’s singled-minded focus on the HRC is evidence that he may well have ulterior motives.
    I found the HRC’s financials on their website, which is rare and implies a greater commitment to transparency many other organizations.
    What’s more, I also found plenty of information on their organizational history and their program activities. In fact, I was able to find their significant financial support for MassEquality, an organization that played a key role in Massachusetts history of civil rights.
    Their 990 lists over 1,000 volunteers to coordinate across four programs. How much time are they supposed to spend answering the questions of one guy? Does Andrew now speak for a “gay constiuency” because of his blog? LOL@that.

  • Yockel says:

    I don’t care about Mr. Sullivan’s motives. If you want my money then you have to tell me what you are doing with it. That is hardly asking too much. Whatever might be on the mind of this or that activist, in the long run accountability will make us stronger, not weaker.
    Objectively, anyone who is asking for transparency is doing us a favor even if it makes our leaders temporarily uncomfortable. Therefore Mr. Sullivan deserves our gratitude. Speculation about somebody’s motives is not only idle, it is irrelevant and undermines an effort to improve the quality and efficiency of our institutions.

  • Hi,
    Folks might want to check out underalms experienced commentary on this issue over at Where Most Needed .
    Fundraising for Nonprofits

  • Amicus says:

    yockel, it’s one thing to ask for transparency, another to offer constructive criticism, and still another to suggest in writing who is “really” fighting for gay rights.
    On the first, have your or Andrew actually tried to get facts from HRC? They publish their 990 on their website. They publish an annual report on their website. They provide the names and e-mail address of a great number of staff. As with all non-profits people, many are eager and willing to talk about what they are doing, but don’t like being called names any more than anyone else.
    On the second, do you have a sense for what they are supposed to do, if not what they are doing currently? I do not. Just saying that someone should “answer questions” suggests that you have a framework of your own – I’d like to see what that is, sooner rather than later, especially when the criticism is so harsh.
    And last, have you looked at any of the other groups that take money for rights advocacy? The focus on a single organization (or their new building) is unbalanced, unfortunately.

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