News and analysis
November 21, 2012
Updated February 03, 2017

Donald Trump's Tweets About Nonprofit Executives Prompt Outrage

Donald Trump, the real-estate mogul and television personality, has taken aim at two high-profile charity leaders, criticizing them on Twitter for collecting too much in salaries and not spending enough on programs.

The tweets pointed to "reports" about the financial practices of the United States Fund for Unicef and the American Red Cross and have been widely shared by some of Mr. Trump's 1.9-million followers.

The problem is that the figures are false.

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 Trump's tweets as "mostly outdated and inaccurate," saying that the information may have come from a chain e-mail that was first sent in 2005.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 Mr. 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.

He also tweeted that American Red Cross chief executive Gail McGovern received $951,957 in compensation in 2011.

"Where is the outrage?" Mr. Trump says in the tweet.

Since he posted the tweets on Monday, a lot of outrage has been directed at Ms. Stern, despite the fact that she drives a Toyota, not a Rolls-Royce.

.@realdonaldtrump sorry no rolls; only a prius. fire your fact checker and help us save kids lives.

— Caryl M. Stern (@CarylStern) November 19, 2012

Mr. Trump also exaggerated her salary figure. Ms. Stern received a total compensation of $511,920 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, according to her organization's Form 990 informational tax return.

The group raised $450-million that year, spending 89.9 percent of it on program services, according to The Chronicle'Philanthropy 400 data.

Her organization routinely deals with the Rolls-Royce rumor, which started in the 2005 chain letter. The group has even set up a page on its Web site to answer the allegation.

But Ms. Stern says that Mr. Trump's high-profile tweets are 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," Ms. Stern says. "It lives now, in cyberspace, without recourse."

As for the Red Cross, the most recent figures in The Chronicle's executive-compensation database show that Ms. McGovern received $501,122 in compensation and an additional $60,088 in benefits in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. The Red Cross had an income of almost $3.6-billion during that fiscal year, spending 91.4 percent of it on programs.

The Red Cross chose not to respond directly to Mr. Trump on Twitter but sent messages to the people retweeting his message, says Wendy Harman, director of social strategies at the American Red Cross. The organization also sent a note to Mr. Trump's office to explain that the message was untrue.

So what charity would Mr. Trump recommend?

The organization, founded and led by Mr. Trump's son, provided almost $1.1-million in grants in 2011. The organization's tax forms show that $1-million of those grants went to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Its only other expense that year was $1,500 for accounting services. Eric Trump was not compensated.

Representatives for Mr. Trump did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

How would your organization respond if a celebrity posted damaging information about your operations on a social network?

Editor's note: This article was updated in February 2017 to include links to stories about Mr. Trump's agenda as president and how it could affect nonprofits.

Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.