Let’s Talk Charities (Updated)

Let’s talk charities for a moment.

Given what happened in Pennsylvania lately, it seems apropos.

This post is a bit of a call to arms. Though, I hardly have the clout (or “Klout”) to do so. After all, my “Klout” score is a meager 26 (whatever the hell that means), and it deems me influential on mohawk haircuts and tattoos. This means that, at best, I’ll probably succeed in having about 5 people join my little charge at windmills. Of those 5, at least 3 will have mohawks and tattoos.

Oh well. Off I go.

Here’s what I’m asking, and I’ll explain in a bit.

  1. This applies if you give monetary support to a charity that supports kids–Boy Scouts, underprivileged youth organizations, youth camps, youth clubs, etc. If you don’t already have plans to do so, seriously consider it. After all, it’s almost the holiday season. Even those of us who sit on the meager end of lawyer salaries still have more means than many, and supporting youth organizations (good ones) is always a way to make a positive difference. Just think about it, OK?
  2. Check to see if the organization prioritizes youth protection. Their policy must be in writing. It must be obvious and apparent. They must require mandatory training for all adults who have contact with youth. They must conduct regular training to emphasize youth protection policies. Background checks are non-negotiable.
  3. If they do, great. If they don’t, withhold all donations, and tell them why. Tell them why in a loud, clear voice. Demand that they prioritize youth protection. Then take your money elsewhere.

Background

In short, I was a Boy Scout as a kid. Once my son started first grade, I became an adult leader in Scouts until he achieved Eagle Scout. Overall, I like the program, but I disagree with the organization about some things. However, I’m here to talk about something they do well.

From the early 80s until today, I’ve watched the Boy Scouts’ youth protection policies evolve and work. They outlaw 1-on-1 contact between youth and adults and forbid any activities unless at least two adults are present at any given time. Separate facilities (sleeping, showering, bathrooms) must be maintained. While pedophiles attempt to infiltrate the organization constantly, no child has ever been abused when the current policies are followed. Any suspected violation of these policies results in an immediate lifetime ban from Scouts, and law enforcement must be informed. Failure to report also carries the penalty of a lifetime ban.

These bans prevent individuals from entering Boy Scout facilities, standing on Boy Scout property, or attending any Boy Scout functions. Violators can be arrested and charged with trespassing (the Boy Scouts are, after all, a private organization).

When I left for college, an old Cub Scout leader of mine was prosecuted and convicted of child molestation. He owned the local funeral home, and his victims were boys hired to help in the mortuary during the summer. In each instance of molestation, he was alone with his victims in the home, somewhere. None of his victims were Cub Scouts. This guy was also a pillar of the community (in small, midwestern towns, the most powerful people in town are those who own the funeral home, the bank, and the supermarket).

Last time I checked, he’d lost his mortuary license and registered as a sex offender. He is forever banned from participating in Boy Scouts.

Thank goodness.

None of my buddies in scouts were molested by him. Thank goodness the system worked.

The prioritized, emphasized, and enforced youth protection policy succeeded and protected us.

The here and now.

Think about another organization, The Second Mile. What are their policies?

I looked at the website. I clicked on tabs for several minutes. I saw nothing about “Youth Protection” or “Preventing Abuse” or “Ensuring the Safety of Our Youth.” Maybe it’s there, but they certainly don’t feel the need to share it readily or obviously. I found vague references to policies in their letter of apology and explanation for the stuff that happened over the last few days, but I failed to find specific guidance on their youth protection policies.

Nothing. Nada. Not even a single hyperlink.

However, they do make it very easy to donate money. Very easy.

Consider another notable, charitable, youth organization. Does their website say anything about youth protection? Upfront? Obviously?

And why not?

Lots of people gave money to The Second Mile, presumably. Many of them were given real or honorary status in the organization. Did any of these folks ask about youth protection? How about the humans on these other lists? These honor rolls appear to be populated by accomplished people.

Did any of them demand a prioritized, obvious, and enforced youth protection policy?

As a charitable organization board, it is their duty to demand such policies for the “good of the organization.” What policy could be more important to a youth organization than, first and foremost, preventing all types of abuse, especially sexual? Shouldn’t they demand this for the overall health of their charity?

Overall health? Good of an organization? That sounds familiar.

Penn State University’s Board of Trustees fired a legendary football coach “for the overall good of the university” and the “long-term health of the university system.” They made a difficult decision on the basis that football is not bigger than a university. They decided that football is a sideshow, and not the main act in the big tent.

That’s what Boards of Directors/Trustees do. They worry about the overall organization. They will do what is necessary to ensure the university’s overall health, even if that decision is unpopular.

Some of you reading this may be on a board (though I doubt such muckity-mucks read my drivel). But, on the offhand chance that you accidentally find yourself here, do you ask hard questions and demand accountability. If not, you are wasting oxygen in the board room.

For the rest of us, we are the lowly charitable, but relatively unimportant givers. We donate a certain percentage of our income in the hopes that it helps some kid to achieve a dream, find success, and contribute positively to society.

Don’t let your money go without doing a little homework. You may not be a millionaire, or a board member, or a member of some Who’s Who group, but it is still your hard-earned money.

Demand that youth organizations account, upfront, for the protection of their youth. Demand that the board do its job.

If they don’t, take your pledge elsewhere, and let them know why their organization doesn’t deserve a single dollar of your money.

Be strong, and be clear.

There are kids who need you to do so–the same kids who deserve our charity.

UPDATE

Oh, and when we talk about the overall good of an organization, we are also talking about their purse strings. For instance: when an individual who works with a youth organization admits to hugging a youth in a shower, you probably should stop paying them.

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Charities (Updated)

  1. Former Nebraska coach and current Nebraska AD Tom Osbourne founded an organization for mentoring kids that is called Teammates. My wife was a mentor for a few years. She had to submit to a background check before they matched her with a child. Further, she was only able to interact with the child once a week in a public area inside of a school where numerous other adults and children were simultaneously present — and that was only after signing in at the school’s office and getting credentials that authorized her presence on school property. Finally, it was strictly forbidden for her to interact with the child in any way at any other time. I’d consider that to be a GOOD example an organization set up by a football coach for the purpose of mentoring children. Pretty much everything I’ve described with respect to Teammates seems to be the opposite of what you’ve described above with respect to Second Mile and what I’ve also read about the organization.

  2. I’ve amended things to include the whole “background check” thing. Of course, to a reasonable person, that should be a no-brainer.

    See, that’s an organization that values child protection. I bet their policies are easily discovered, too.

    Such policies should always be prioritized (I’d argue more than the mission of the organization itself) and published for all to see.

    If they are, the organization is not worth supporting or existing.

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