Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Donor’s Wishes

Before ever taking on any financial role in a non-profit organization, I had two good role models that, perhaps unaware, taught me that my duties were more than just proposing a budget and signing checks. My father had been a financial officer for our local church while I was young. He worked very hard to convince the board (elders) that it was important for a small organization to prioritize use of its limited funds. Rather than spreading the money thinly across a large number of projects, they could maximize the success of these projects by concentrating on a few instead.

The other influence was an elderly lady who spent a number of years as treasurer of the local Colonial Dames XVII Century chapter. For a tiny person, she was a force of steel when it came to upholding donors’ wishes, even when they were long deceased. As I would listen to her reports, I learned how to assess projects to determine whether or not a donor’s original intent truly was being followed.

In any non-profit setting, a clash between the donors and others is inevitable. Someone will always want to use the funds, assets, or resources for some grand scheme (honorable or not) that's in conflict with both the letter and spirit of what the original owner wants or wanted. Locally, there was a potential lawsuit involving the Santa Ana Zoo not keeping their end of a land agreement. The recent non-profit corporate takeover of the Barnes Foundation and last great private art collection, was documented very well in the film The Art of the Steal (site, imdb), which I saw back in March. Even small organizations and individuals have trouble with colleges and universities following rules set down for tiny scholarships.

Why does this happen? It stems from people’s insistence that they know what’s best to do with other people’s property, and some will go through all the legal hassle necessary to get their way. This is worse than taxing people for causes which they have no desire to be part of because it’s done in the name of promoting those people’s own interests. No one cares that they’re, in fact, stealing from others. Makes me want to yell, as a protester does in Steal, “Just wait ‘till it’s your own will!”