Defend nonprofits against Trump attacks
Donald Trump, you’re fired.
Unfollowed, at least, on my Twitter account. That is about as significant as one lock of hair on The Donald’s elegantly styled frock, I know. But let me explain why.
Last month, when Trump fired tweets at two high-profile charity leaders, accusing them of collecting too much in salaries and not spending enough on programs, there were 1.9 followers listening. If they retweeted, you can only imagine the ripple effect of his 140-character rant on the national dialogue. Millions listened, engaged, outraged with The Donald. They shared, piled on. And there was no common voice of the nonprofit sector to speak up. Whether the individuals involved were guilty as charged or not, it was yet another blow to the image of nonprofits and another obstacle on what is a patently unfair playing field.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy did cover Trump’s tweets, which pointed to “reports” about the financial practices of the United States Fund for Unicef and the American Red Cross.
“The problem is that the figures are false,” The Chronicle reported. “Snopes, a site that checks the validity of Internet-based rumors, labeled the information included in Mr. Trump’s tweets as ”mostly outdated and inaccurate,”saying that the information may have come from a chain e-mail that was first sent in 2005.”
One of Trump’s tweets accused United States Fund for Unicef chief executive Caryl Stern of receiving more than $1-million a year in compensation and a Rolls-Royce, while another says her organization uses less than 5 percent of its revenue on programs, The Chronicle reported. Turns out she drives a Toyota and while her compensation’s about a half-million. It seems fair to keep in minds the adage coined by United Press International, “Get it first but get it right.” That should hold true, even on Twitter.
Stern told The Chronicle that Trump’s high-profile tweets were particularly dangerous as the organization heads into the important year-end giving season. “What Donald Trump did … was let the genie out of the bottle,” she said. “It lives now, in cyberspace, without recourse.”
Can there be recourse to such attacks on the nonprofit sector?
Dan Pallotta, founder of The Charity Defense Council, hopes so. Pallotta is well known in the nonprofit world as the author of “Uncharitable,”which the Stanford Social Innovation Review said “deserves to become the nonprofit sector’s new manifesto.” Uncharitable exposed the unjust and discriminatory rules society imposes on charities, including the unfair public views of “investments” in salaries and infrastructure in for-profit ventures that is often seen as “overhead” when applied to nonprofits.
Pallotta argues that the first question donors ask, “How much will go to programs?” should be expanded to a broader discussion about nonprofits’ need for investment and capacity building to achieve more meaningful outcomes and greater impact. In the for-profit world, those who take risks and invest in themselves and the future are praised as visionaries, heroes. In the nonprofit space, anyone with such impure thoughts gets pummeled. In his latest release, Charity Case, Pallotta outlines the Charity Defense Council’s mission “to transform the way the public thinks about giving and solving problems…and overcome our obsession with overhead so that we can truly change the world.”
The Charity Defense Council hopes to get a place at the table for media conventions and training programs. It needs to be on the Investigative Reporters and Editors web site, right next to its resource link, “How to Investigate Nonprofits.” But where The Charity Defense Council really needs to be is at BlogWorldand the Online News Association’s convention. I’m not aware of any national scale tweetups. But one shows up, it needs to be there.
Why? With due deference Important Editors and Producers everywhere, that’s where the clout resides today. You can now challenge those who buy newsprint by the ton and ink by the barrel. But to be heard, you need to get the on the minds of the the digital masses, and hope they share your message.
As traditional media declines in influence with traditional audiences, digital dialogue has emerged as the most powerful gatekeeper of our civil — often uncivil– discourse. As a newspaper editor for 35 years, I often heard the saying that “The definition of news is what the Editor saw on the way to work that day.” No more.
Today’s news is not what Lou Grant bellows to his cadre of star-gazed and earnest editors in news meetings. The value of news and information is determined by what the people share, in emails, on Facebook, on Twitter and elsewhere in the digital sphere. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and in this case crowdbashing rule our worlds and will shape its future.
Pallotta hopes the Charity Defense Council will at least give the nonprofit sector a shot at being heard when these types of things pop up. As he noted in Charity Case, “The American Jewish community has the Anti-Defamation League. The gay community has GLAAD – the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The African American community has the NAACP. But the humanitarian sector has no corollary – no organization chartered specifically to address and correct sensational media attacks on the sector or its members.”
That’s just wrong. News types love a quote attributed to humorist Finley Peter Dunne, who said “The newspaper…comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
If the crowd is taking on that role, who will be there to get it first, right and in fairness? Who will be there to step in when it gets ugly? I’m hoping those with clout in the digital dialogue, whomever they may be, will hear this.
Where is the outrage?” Trump asked in the tweet.
Right here, sir. The outrage is here, at my humble home office laptop in Cincinnati.
My job is to type this, hit “send” and hope that someone hears the message, thinks a bit about it and hits“share.”
I’m tcallinan on Twitter. Let’s see if we can get Mr. Trump to follow me. I promise to follow back.
Tom Callinan is Editor of CharitableWords.com. He retired in 2011 after a 35 years as a journalist, most recently Editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer and McMicken Professor of Journalism at The University of Cincinnati. He is now a nonprofit volunteer and activist and serves on boards with Social Venture Partners International and The Charity Defense Council.by