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Oct 11 2011

Not associating with atheists is more important than curing cancer, apparently

The American Cancer Society recently turned down a $500,000 donation. Why? They keep giving conflicting, vague, or demonstrably false excuses. But it’s obvious from their stonewalling and differential treatment what the reason is – because those donations came from atheists.

Greta Christina has an excellent summary of the whole debacle here. I think this is the take home statement:

Now, in case you’re wondering if this is standard behavior, find someone who works as a development director for a nonprofit. Ask her what her response would be to a $250,000 matching offer from a philanthropic foundation. And ask if her organization would be drooling, celebrating wildly, and bending over backward to make it happen — or if they would be evading, delaying, dodging, deflecting, changing their stories, treating the potential benefactor with irritation and dismissal, and finding an endless series of excuses for not accepting the offer?

As someone who’s on the board of a nonprofit…uh, the former. Definitely the former.

If the barrage of comments from atheists on the American Cancer Society’s facebook page says anything, this may become a bit of a PR problem. You should desperately want to use a half million dollars

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Cory Albrecht (@Bytor)

    Greg Laden has a good point that even if the ACS hadn’t acted like jerks we still shouldn’t be donating to the because their are so grossly inefficient in how they use the money donated to them.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/10/how_to_not_cure_cancer.php

    For skeptics, I’d recommend GiveWell – http://www.givewell.org/ – an organization that analyzes how well a charity rates in terms of transparency, evidence for effectiveness of program, and so on. Julia nd Massimo interviwed one of the co-founders, Holden Karnofsky, in RS#38 http://www.rationallyspeakingpodcast.org/show/rs38-holden-karnofsky-on-evidence-based-philanthropy.html

  2. 2
    Becki

    My guess is that they’re trying to avoid the wrath of conservative christians since they had to deal with a pr mess involving anti-choicers this Spring. While this certainly doesn’t inspire sympathy in me for ACS pulling this bigoted crap, it might something of an explanation.

    http://www.politicususa.com/en/conservatives-cancer-society

    “The director of Right to Life Central California, Josh Brahm, has taken opposition to a new level by announcing a boycott of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program to protest the organization’s support of stem cell research. The American Cancer Society has also been attacked for supporting an HPV vaccine and an anti-smoking program by an Iowa Right to Life group. In calling for a boycott of the Relay for Life, Brahm claims that supporting the group is not different than aiding Nazi scientists.’

  3. 3
    TerranRich

    The American Cancer Society has also been attacked for supporting an HPV vaccine and an anti-smoking program…

    Sorry, but the fact that an organization can be attacked for supporting vaccinations and being against smoking is just ridiculous in this day and age.

  4. 4
    Becki

    I have no idea why you’re saying sorry when I COMPLETELY FREAKING AGREE! (Yes, I really felt the need to shout that.) o_O

    But seriously, though, in all of the atheist/free thinking coverage I’ve seen of this issue so far, I haven’t seen anyone address this evangelical anti-choice boycott and possible fears of more zealot backlash if the ACS were to acknowledge an atheist organization as a major donor right now. The ACS is possibly scrambling to figure out which group of people is most likely to make the most noise and cost them the most money and who is the safest group to offend. If that is the case, then so far it would seem that they’re less afraid of the atheists. Go figure!

  5. 5
    hoverfrog

    There are plenty of other organisations that would be happy to take the money. Let one of them have it instead.

  6. 6
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Then that’s just pathetic on their part. “Oh no, some Christian fundamentalist wackaloons will be angree with us for associating with people who are going to readily be able to give us half-a-million dollars! Mwwweeeehh… better hem and haw and get them to leave!”

    Offending wackaloons like the Conservative Right is a good thing, in my opinion. We should be ready to offend them, because that offense is directly inspired by such actions as equality for LGBT persons, equality for women, being pro-choice, welfare, healthcare, taxation of the rich, environmentalism, science, reason, and logic.

    So like hoverfrog said, find another organization that’d be willing to take the money, one which won’t be scared to offend jerks.

  7. 7
    Steve

    So if this is a PR Problem, why would we want to give them $500K to “solve” the problem by hiring a crisis PR firm?

    What amount of that money would actually be used in Cancer Research?

  8. 8
    imnotspecial

    The Stiefel foundation is clearly trying to promote atheism. Maybe it is better for the ACF to stay clear of all religious propaganda. This is supposed to be about cancer research, not giving platforms to ideologies and religious issues.

    The Stiefel foundation should give me the money and I stand at a street corner to hand out enlightenment material.

  9. 9
    jodimathews

    Oh my goodness, my homelessness non-profit would LOVE to have that money. Love. Love.

  10. 10
    JRB

    One thing a lot of people seem to be missing is that the American Cancer Society’s annual revenue hovers around the $1 Billion mark (according to their 2011 Stewardship Report). This means that while $500,000 sounds like a lot of money, it would make up approximately .05% of their annual revenue budget.

    Now, while I don’t know the ACS’s motivation for rejecting the gift, if they are afraid that this one time gift (conditional on being able to raise the other $250,000) may alienate people and organizations that give annually at levels that equal tens or hundreds of millions of dollars I can’t really blame them for turning it down.

    Not only do I sit on a number of non-profit boards but I also work in the non-profit fundraising field. One of the things people often don’t realize about fundraising is that despite all the talk of curing cancer (or building a new lab so that your university can make the smartest bunch of undergrads or feeding starving children) usually what not-for-profits are really giving donors are a bunch of intangibles (a feeling of giving back, community recognition, a sense of making a difference). And there are a lot of different organizations who can provide those things to a donor.

    So if you’re Mr. Billionaire who believes in curing cancer and Jesus, I guarantee you have proposals from a half dozen different non-profits sitting on your desk at any one time. And if an organization that you’ve been giving $5 million dollars to annually in exchange for warm-fuzzy feelings has made some decisions that make you question the relationship, there will be no shortage of other organizations willing to step in and provide those warm-fuzzies for you.

    The leadership of every not for profit is aware of how important not alienating your donor base is and while I’ve never been put in the position, I know of at least a few organizations that have had to turn down large gifts because of “philosophical” difference between the organization/leadership and the donor.

    While it would be great for the ACS to step up and make a stand, as a director of a not for profit, would you be willing to accept a gift that made up less than one percent of your annual revenue budget at the risk of losing donors who make up a significant portion of your annual donor base?

    I’m not saying what’s happening isn’t shitty but unfortunately that is reality.

    (I recognize I’m making a lot of assumptions here but given the story so far this is one possible scenario. Alternatively, I could see that ACS is actually telling the truth and they are trying to “phase out the non-commercial part of the National Team Partner program” and exceptions are made for organizations like the Girl Scouts to stay on because they have been able to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.

    Again, $500,000 sounds like a lot – and to some organizations it would be – but in my own organization we would consider it a medium sized major gift and we are no where near as big as the ACS.)

  11. 11
    F

    not giving platforms to ideologies and religious issues

    You are right. All participation in ACS programs should be anonymous, with NDAs to that effect. No corporate advertising, no promoting groups or religions or ideas of any sort. No official sponsor status. No recognition at all.

    Or, they can just keep it equal across the board in the current system.

  12. 12
    gwen

    Looking at the comments on the ACS facebook page, it is amazing how many people thank ‘god’ for their cancer cures. Are they aware that the money raised is NOT going to ‘god(s)’, but to the CANCER SOCIETY to do research for cures?? More cognitive dissonance. If you truly believe you were cured by ‘god(s)’ why go to the doctor, and why not donate all that money to your churches/synagogs/temples instead?

  13. 13
    Mike McCreight

    No wonder they can’t find a cure for cancer — they’re waiting on God to make a big donation.

  14. 14
    Jes

    I’m not sure this is applicable, but the non-profit I run is actually prohibited from accepting such a large donation. There is an upper limit on the dollar amount we’re allowed to receive in 1 year, it is far, far below $500,000. (I think $15,000, but I’d have to look it up. Strictly small time.) That said, if that were the case, they could just say “This is the total amount of money we are allowed by law to deal with in a year, could you just match up to that this year and maybe do more next year?”.

  15. 15
    Randomfactor

    Dan Savage has picked up the story…

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/10/17/dont-believe-in-god

  16. 16
    Jurjen S.

    That’s entirely possible, and it struck me as the most likely explanation. But what does it say about the Christian donors who would withdraw their donations because of some atheist group getting to sponsor a Relay for Life team? What twisted moral compass must you have to think that it’s more important–and that God thinks it’s more important–that you withhold contributions to a cancer charity than be indirectly tainted by that same charity accepting money from icky atheists?

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