This is a guest post by Todd Stiefel. Todd is the President and Founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.
For background on this letter, I suggest reading posts here and here. In short, the American Cancer Society rejected the Foundation Beyond Belief‘s National Team for this year’s Relay For Life events. There is good reason to believe that, if we had that opportunity to contribute to a National Team, atheists and Humanists around the country could have raised at least $500,000 for cancer research. In a previous post, I referred to Mr. Johnson as “Bob.” — Hemant
Reuel, I am responding to you directly regarding your post on the American Cancer Society Relay for Life page on Facebook. You made your post on September 9th and I have only waited to respond publicly because I had still been attempting to resolve this situation. Those efforts have failed and I no longer believe that this issue can be resolved so, at the very least, I feel a need to correct the spin and misinformation in your post. You have treated us unfairly, and the record needs to be set straight.
My family wanted to raise a half-million dollars for ACS and offered a $250,000 dollar challenge to ACS as a dollar-for-dollar match on all money raised by a Foundation Beyond Belief national Relay for Life team. Our motivations were simple. First, we wanted to raise money for a great cause that is extremely important to our family. My wife, father, two uncles, and countless friends are cancer survivors. Two of my grandparents, an uncle, and a great-uncle are cancer victims. This disease has tormented my family for generations. We wanted to help find a cure and better treatments.
Second, we wanted to mobilize a large and quickly growing community to help in the effort. The non-religious are one of the largest and fastest growing demographics of the American population (PDF). Relay For Life seemed like an amazing way for us to rally together for a common cause both at the local level and nationally through the ACS system of national teams. Between my family’s gift and this large community, we believed we could do amazing things in the fight against cancer.
Third, Relay itself is a wonderful event that allows for amazing grassroots activities. It is a great way for our local groups to have fun, get to know each other better, and develop as teams. It is also a wonderful way for us to reach out in positive ways to religious people in communities and demonstrate to them that we share many of the same values.
I was incredibly excited to be able to launch this effort. Initially, you agreed that FBB could have a national team, as other non-profits do. I agreed to serve as the FBB project lead on this effort and an intern was brought on to support the effort. We had a goal to recruit 100 local teams to join our national team and to make this an annual tradition. FBB also had agreement from four of the largest national atheist and humanist groups that they would support our efforts and encourage their chapters and affiliates to create teams.
Then, shockingly, you reversed directions and denied us recognition as a national team. In an email to you, I had written, “Our goal will be to raise $500k in our first year and my parents, wife and me are still planning on running a matching challenge of up to $250k from us for donations made through local teams under the national team.” In your post on Facebook, you said that ACS did not turn down our offer, but that is not true. By rejecting the national team, you did reject the offered gift as that was the key contingency on the gift being made. Of course, you had showed virtually no enthusiasm or thanks for this gift offer. When we spoke on the phone recently, you referred to the gift offer as “fine,” but did not indicate that the offer was exciting or show any appreciation whatsoever for the gift. Instead, you promptly told me that ACS would not help us track the performance of our local teams so that we could calculate how much should be matched (even though your system can do that automatically if we had a national team). Major matching challenge gifts are not “fine,” they are amazing! The first thing you say about them is how thankful you are for the gift, not how you will not allow the automatic tracking of success. As someone who has worked to raise money for non-profits, I can assure you that your strategy here was very poor for cultivating donors, unless you do not want them as donors.
Originally, you had agreed that we could have a team under the Relay non-corporate national team program. In August, after weeks of you not returning my calls and emails, I got this message from you:
Todd …. wanted to get back with you regarding the non-corporate national team program status. I had not returned your most recent phone call pending the outcome of some ongoing proposed changes. The ACS is currently undergoing a top to bottom examination of the full range of our programs — a process known as Transformation — from the governance structure to all of our initiatives and activities — due in part to the changing economic conditions and the current charitable giving climate. As part of that exercise we are looking at eliminating certain aspects of our operations in order to more effectively deploy limited financial and human capital. One of the changes is to eliminate the non-corporate national team program in order to devote these resources into programs with greater potential for growth.
Our focus for the involvement of organizations will be at the community and event level where we have demonstrated our real strength. We certainly appreciate you personal involvement and the success of your team …. and your interest in getting other teams involved through your organization. We hope that you’ll continue that effort to field teams on a community basis.
Thanks again ….
Reuel E. Johnson | National Vice President – Relay For Life
After this message, I talked to you via phone and asked if we could have a corporate national team instead, because, in fact, Foundation Beyond Belief is a corporation. You refused. I asked how it hurts ACS for to have such a team and you refused to answer the question and dismissively told me that it was ACS decision and that we could not have a corporate team. I then asked about your youth partner national team program. You pointed out that this program was exciting and “accelerating” (I took a note of the word choice). I pointed out that we have over 400 college groups between the two national organizations that were going to help us recruit FBB teams and then I requested a youth partner team. You rejected that idea immediately and said that you were de-emphasizing that program. Which is it? Is it accelerating or being de-emphasized?
In your Facebook post, you said, “The Foundation sought to participate in Relay For Life’s National Team Program, which is a program for corporate donors and supporters. The Foundation Beyond Belief is not a corporate entity, so our representative offered alternatives to the National Team Program that are consistent with the way in which Relay For Life works with other foundations, student groups, social and philosophical organizations, and other types of groups across the country that do not meet the criteria of the National Team Program.” The reality, Reuel, is that you moved the goal post on us. You agreed we could have a team and then rather than working with us on our matching challenge, you chose to eliminate the non-corporate national program and refused to give us any kind of other national partner team. Why? You claimed in your post that FBB is not a “corporate entity” even though you knew that was false because I had explained to you on the phone that FBB is a corporation. If you prefer your corporate program be for businesses, why could we not have a youth partner team instead? That is what you offer to other foundations and student groups, yet, contrary to your post on Facebook, you did not offer us this equal treatment. Instead, you offered to work with us in many different ways, but none that would give us equal recognition.
You have youth partner national teams for student honor societies with far fewer chapters than we have. What is different about us such that we do not deserve similar recognition? One of your current youth national team partners, Sigma Alpha Lambda, had 39 teams last year and raised $28,000. That is amazing and they deserve congratulations and recognition for their achievement. Why can we not get the same opportunities that you give to them? Another youth national team is the Girl Scouts of America. They raised an impressive $82,000 last year with 182 teams. Youth national team Phi Theta Kappa raised $119,000. Kroger, a national corporate team, raised $52,000. Those are all wonderful achievements. FBB would have been raising far more than any of these figures, yet we were rejected from getting the recognition as a national team partner that is given to them. How is that fair? The one Relay team I was on last year, the Triangle Freethought Society team, raised $23,000 alone. Did you think we could not raise enough money to justify the recognition you give to other non-profit groups even though just one of our teams is able to raise almost as much as entire national teams?
Similar groups are being offered recognition as national team partners that we are being denied. That is unfair and that is the crux of why I am upset. Further, the $250,000 matching challenge we have offered has been ignored and rejected. That hurts more than you can know. I was trying hard to do something wonderful. Instead, my efforts have been frustrated by inequity.
Let me be clear, I do not blame all of the American Cancer Society for this. Everyone else at ACS has been great, warm and supportive. It is unfortunate that we must move on, but we will find another group and save lives with a charity that shows appreciation for donors and gives equal recognition. In the “current charitable giving climate,” there are countless non-profits out there that I am sure will be very excited to work with us. I personally look very much forward to working with Foundation Beyond Belief as they help organize a national movement of charitable giving and community service by atheists, agnostics, and humanists.
I do agree with you that “saving lives is what it is all about.” I simply believe we can accomplish that and be fair at the same time.