Opinion
March 24, 2015

Letters: How to Deal With Charity Abuses, Plus Concerns About a ‘Chronicle’ Columnist

To the Editor:

Michael Peregrine in his letter "Nonprofits Don’t Need More Regulation" endorsed most of Independent Sector’s updated "good governance" guidelines and indicted Pablo Eisenberg for criticizing them.

I have a different take from both authors. Mr. Peregrine defends self-regulation and says there is a "pretty effective regulatory framework already in place to provide oversight of nonprofits."

At the same time, he suggests a fundamental weakness in the new guidelines, noting they are "a little light on current trends in applicable law."

In fact, a summary of the 2015 version shows that the contents are in most instances a mirror image of the multimillion-dollar original 2007 guidelines, with very minor changes.

Mr. Eisenberg calls for more legislation and tougher enforcement. Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, admitted to The Chronicle in 2012 that self-regulation will not constrain organizations that purposely violate the law. Indeed, her organization has

over the years sought a partnership with government, advocating more money for the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt activities and other oversight and education activities.

But with government resources dwindling, there is little prospect of more oversight or enforcement at either the federal or state level. Increased regulation seems to be out of the question since it can’t be enforced. No government bodies except for a few state attorney-general offices consider regulation of charities a top priority. Many state charity regulators readily admit they do not have the resources to police the field properly.

The Internal Revenue Service said it was going to look into nonprofit governance and the surprisingly big amount of diversion of assets in the charitable sector (for example, through embezzlement or theft). After almost three years, we continue to wait.

Mr. Peregrine says that "we can’t forget the influence of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee."

But hearings those two committees have held on nonprofit issues have amounted to nothing but political theater. Congress has made few substantive moves to regulate charities since it changed the American Red Cross’s charter in 2007. At least the hearings, which highlighted practices at organizations like the Nature Conservancy and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, raised awareness that some of this nation’s stalwart organizations are severely compromised.

Mr. Eisenberg forces issues that the sector does not want to address. "Status quo" are words not in his vocabulary. His always provocative, and sometimes acerbic, tone brings out strong reactions like Mr. Peregrine’s letter. That "rub" is healthy. These kinds of debates are much needed, but frequently missing, in tackling the important issues facing the nonprofit sector today.

Gary Snyder

Nonprofit Imperative

West Bloomfield, Mich.

 

Pablo Eisenberg’s Columns Raise Questions for ‘The Chronicle’

To the Editor

As a long-time Chronicle subscriber, I am writing to express serious concerns about Pablo Eisenberg’s commentaries. By and large, Mr. Eisenberg’s writing is poorly researched, strongly biased, and harmful not only to the organizations about which he writes but also to the nonprofit community in general.

Recent examples are Mr. Eisenberg’s pieces on Independent Sector, the Council on Foundations, and the Milton Hershey School. All of these generated angry responses from Mr. Eisenberg’s targets or their supporters, serious enough for you to publish, pointing out the inaccuracies, unfairness, and staleness of Eisenberg’s approach.

Clearly, the nonprofit world is not perfect, and the community benefits from legitimate debates about issues such as the degree to which government regulation should be increased.

I agree with your policy of not using your editorial pages to have The Chronicle itself express opinions on issues or specific nonprofit organizations. However, many readers undoubtedly assume that The Chronicle supports Mr. Eisenberg. Publishing his commentaries regularly as you have been doing for many years gives the impression that he is an important contributor whose views you deem worthy of publication. It’s one thing to use The Chronicle’s opinion pages to spur public debate; it’s another to start all of these debates by having Mr. Eisenberg ask nonprofits when they stopped beating their wives.

While I hope you will continue to promote open and vigorous discussion about controversial nonprofit issues, I encourage you to find commentators other than Mr. Eisenberg. Doing so would strengthen your publication and benefit the nonprofit community.

Pete Smith

Washington

Mr. Smith advises nonprofits on compensation matters.

 

Editor’s Note

The Chronicle takes seriously all complaints raised about our articles and promptly publishes letters to the editor and any corrections that readers have pointed out. Mr. Smith’s letter raises an important point about how our journalism could be improved: Mr. Eisenberg noted in his council article that he spoke with more than 45 people for his article. Those interviews included extensive conversations with the council’s chief executive, Vikki Spruill, and its board chair, Sherry Magill, yet none of the other people Mr. Eisenberg spoke to would allow their names to be used. The Chronicle appreciated that Ms. Spruill and Ms. Magill answered extensive fact-checking questions from Chronicle editors, but as Benjamin Soskis noted in a recent opinion piece, coverage of nonprofits would be improved if more people would be willing to talk critically on the record.