Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How do you choose TisBest charities?

I am frequently asked "How do you choose TisBest charities?" There is never an easy answer to this question, but I wanted to share a recent email exchange that provides some interesting insight to that question as well as fodder for thought:

To: TisBest
From: "John Smith"

Hello! I have just become aware of TisBest Philanthropy and think it's fantastic! However, I'm disappointed that you include the Boy Scouts of America on your charity list. As you undoubtedly know, the Boy Scouts of America blatantly and outrightly discriminates against gays. For that reason, I would respectfully request that you reconsider including them on your list. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll use your organization until I know that this discriminatory and hateful group is not on your list. I had planned on using the giftcard idea for my holiday and birthday shopping on a forward-going basis. I appreciate your attention to my email.


John Smith
From: TisBest

Hi John, Thank you for taking the time to write.

I will tell you an interesting story. We added 21 new charities to our list this fall and one of them was GLAAD, which provides a variety of support to the gay and lesbian communities, as you may know.

In response to our notice about adding the 21 new charities, I received an email from a woman who was irate that we had added GLAAD – it was entirely counter to her value system and she swore she would never give a TisBest Charity Gift Card again. I explained to her my theory on our list of charities. My goal is to be inclusive and to include a charity for most major interest groups so that everyone who receives a gift card will find something on the list for them. It was pointed out to us that we did not have a charity focusing on issues related to the gay and lesbian community and so we added GLAAD. My explanation was adequate for her and she decided that she would in fact continue to send our cards as gifts! I was pleased.

Now, you write from precisely the opposite perspective. I say to you what I said to her - we do not judge the substance of the charities on our list. We just try to be inclusive of all interest groups. And in the course of that, there are organizations on the list that anyone who is a strong thinker may disagree with. For me this is what makes America great – we have this amazing free expression of ideas and goals in a larger community.

TisBest does not stand for one or another goal of the charities on our list. We stand for the proposition that if all of America spent a little less money on material consumption, and a little more on trying to make the world a better place – whatever that means to them – then we would be a stronger nation for it.

Erik Marks
Executive Director
TisBest Philanthropy


To: TisBest
From: John Smith

Interesting perspective, Erik, and thank you for your prompt and thoughtful response. However, there is a big difference in the GLAAD woman's complaint and mine. Her complaint was based on GLAAD's mission running counter to her belief system: she simply doesn't believe gays and lesbians should not be portrayed positively in the media (I am a big supporter of GLAAD). My complaint is not necessarily based on the fact that BSA's mission is counter to my "value system." In fact, I was in the Boy Scouts for many years. My criticism is based on the fact that BSA blatantly discriminates against gay people, which in many states, including in Washington, is just illegal. If your goal is to simply be inclusive and find something for everyone, why wouldn't you include the KKK on your list?

Your mission is admirable and important. Yes, philanthropy is intended to better the world, but some philanthropies try to do so in the wrong way. Philanthropies that carry on their mission in discriminatory ways, such as BSA, are, in my opinion, not worth supporting. I'm not asking you to choose between me and the GLAAD woman, but perhaps you might consider reevaluating your criteria for including groups on your charity list to only include charities that do not discriminate in any manner whatsoever.


To: John Smith
From: TisBest

John, Your point is a good one. I agree with you that the two perspectives are fundamentally different. With GLAAD it is a focus on the mission of the organization. With BSA you are looking at how the organization operates, and not its mission.

I fear that engaging in an analysis of either mission, or operation, would be a slippery slope for us. Another organization we have been criticized for is PETA. The purebred dog owners associations got wind that we had PETA on our list and inundated us with email criticizing us for it. They did not have a specific complaint about PETA but a wide array of complaints, with the underlying motive presumably being that PETA was opposed to all breeding operations. But in the course of their email they criticized PETA for engaging in euthanasia, for releasing zoo animals, for terrorizing research laboratories, etc. Those activities are allegedly part of PETA’s operations. Probably some or all of those activities are illegal.

America has a long tradition of free speech through activities that are at times illegal. The Boston Tea Party was illegal. Freeing slaves was illegal. The civil rights rallies were illegal. TisBest is neither capable of, nor entitled to, stand in judgment of whether or not nonprofit organization acts illegally, and if so, whether not that illegal activity is justified by the intended goals. We choose organizations that operate with internal integrity towards the beliefs of their members. We do not judge the moral quality or legal compliance of the organization’s mission or operations in advancement of that mission.

So why not the KKK? A fair question. The easy answer is that they are not a 501c3. But that is too easy. What if they were? We would not put them on the list of TisBest Charities because their substantive mission, as well as their operations, are supported by a tiny minority, and are criticized by a vast majority. In short, their mission is not supported by a critical mass of supporters, when looking at the country as a whole.

I hope you see that my focus in this regard is towards inclusion – precisely the goal you espouse. Our goal is that the voices and opinions of all of America’s diversity may be represented on our list of Charities.

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