Charities, Corruption, and Wisdom

Charities, Corruption, and Wisdom June 22, 2013

I mentioned in my message this past Sunday that all of us engage in a corrupt world. Our job is not to separate ourselves from it, but to bring light and grace to it.  It takes a great deal of wisdom to learn how to do this without corrupting our own souls.

While many have tried to create utopian communities where corruption will be unwelcome and people can live in harmony and peace, such communities ALWAYS fall apart. That, like it or not, is the human existence.

All my life, I’ve been drawn to organizations that seek to enhance the common good.  I’ve had a sense of my own privilege and knew that when one has been given much, much is also required.

When I speak of my own privilege, this does not refer to material wealth, although I acknowledge that I’ve never been desperately poor. But it does refer to educational wealth, good, solid family of origin, wonderful friends, superb health and an sense of competence about dealing with life.  Lots of riches there.  Lots of reasons to consider my own obligation to the greater good.

So, the non-profit world has been a natural fit for me. I love it–and I hate its corruption and abuses. And they are endemic.

A year long investigation with CNN, the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting have resulted in a report  of the 50 worst charities.

These charities generally use professional fund-raisers rather than their in-house staff. Anyone get a call recently for the Firefighters Charitable Foundation or Cancer Fund of America? Then you know what I’m taking about.

Massive amounts of money, given sacrificially by the donors, flows to those professional fundraisers and for executive staff salaries. In some cases, less than 1% of funds raises actually went to the charitable causes themselves.

Several of the most egregious charities donated nothing. Yep, nothing. According to the investigation,  five of the zero-percenters brought in a total of $90,000,000 in charitable donations and those donations offered no benefit whatsoever except to attorneys, fund-raisers and staff.

All of us live, work and give in a world of endemic corruption. That’s the nature of our very broken world.

We always have three primary choices when faced with corruption and injustice. Think of it as a three-pronged fork in the road. Each path offers rewards and drawbacks. Each path has few and generally complex and uncomfortable options for turning back, so returning to the original three-pronged fork is difficult, although not impossible.

The possibilities:

  • First, assume it has nothing to do with us, accommodate to it and otherwise ignore it.
  • Second, noting the lucrative nature of corruption, join in and see what we can gain from participating in it.
  • Three, take the high, and more complicated road, and actively stand against it.

Each of those primary choices offers multiple sub-choices, but the primary choice will dictate the main road we will travel.

That’s why wisdom is so highly valued in both the biblical witness and in most really great literature. Unfortunately, it is all too rarely seen. Takes too much time and too much discipline to achieve.

I spoke about the gaining of wisdom in my message using Albus Dumbledore (from the Harry Potter series) as the primary illustration. Dumbledore learned wisdom–but had to make significant mistakes to get there.  Scarred and humbled by those mistakes, he learned his limits and became a force for good.

Would that there were an easier way.  But I just don’t know one.

"I have kept my mouth shut while serving in the UMC ministry, simply because I ..."

Could Diverse and Especially Female Clergy ..."
"a) the mainlines are dying precipitously and have been for decades. "majority" is no longer ..."

The UMC Inquistion Arrived While The ..."
"Oh, brother! I get that you have little idea how conservative religion works within the ..."

The UMC Inquistion Arrived While The ..."
"No, I would not be interested in dodging the theological substance. But the notion that ..."

The UMC Inquistion Arrived While The ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Don Wiley

    One of the best things to do is to follow your head AND your heart. I always recommend doing some checking. The digital, online world has made it far easier to get unbiased financial information about charitable organizations. Guidestar.org , charity navigator.org , and charity watch.org are just a few of the good information sources about financial information on charities.

    Financials don’t always tell all of the story. Fundraising costs may rise dramatically in the year prior to a capital drive and higher salaries for executives at larger, operational charities are not just a function of someone ‘being greedy’ – remember, a highly scrutinized (in these days) board of directors -usually with enough personal wealth to make it worth their while to be punctilious so as not to risk liability – recommends and approves that compensation. However, a five year average is an important measure of the group’s commitment to its stated mission.

    And you are right – sometimes we must learn through mistakes. I firmly believe it is best to try to learn from other’s mistakes, but I absolutely know I have learned best from my own…

  • Don Wiley

    One of the best things to do is to follow your head AND your heart. I always recommend doing some checking. The digital, online world has made it far easier to get unbiased financial information about charitable organizations. Guidestar.org , charity navigator.org , and charity watch.org are just a few of the good information sources about financial information on charities.

    Financials don’t always tell all of the story. Fundraising costs may rise dramatically in the year prior to a capital drive and higher salaries for executives at larger, operational charities are not just a function of someone ‘being greedy’ – remember, a highly scrutinized (in these days) board of directors -usually with enough personal wealth to make it worth their while to be punctilious so as not to risk liability – recommends and approves that compensation. However, a five year average is an important measure of the group’s commitment to its stated mission.

    And you are right – sometimes we must learn through mistakes. I firmly believe it is best to try to learn from other’s mistakes, but I absolutely know I have learned best from my own…