What I'm Doing About That

Funny story #1: There’s been some talk lately about how to better unite atheists and humanists in Minnesota, how to bring us all together on our common causes. August Berkshire wrote a post a few months ago about combining Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota. There are reasons to not simply set up a Coalition of Reason, or it would have happened already.

As I was preparing for the Women in Secularism conference, I decided to talk to a few of the chapter leaders there about what it would take to set up CFI-MN and what doing that would offer us. After all, we also have a local skeptic group that could use some support.

Nothing may have come of the idea even if I thought it was good and presented it to our board when I got back, but I was planning to ask. That, of course, didn’t happen.

Funny story #2: I went to my records to get more information on my current monthly donations to CFI before writing to CFI’s development team with instructions. I discovered that these donations were on a credit card that expired in December.

CFI has gone six months without donation from me because they never notified me that they couldn’t bill that card. My monthly donation to Secular Student Alliance was on the same card. They notified me in January, and they haven’t missed a donation from me. Oops, CFI.

Rebecca and Greta have both announced that they are done with CFI national. No more appearances. No more selling columns to their magazines. No more promotion. Done.

I haven’t had ties as close as theirs. I have paid to attend two of their conferences. I contributed to one as a speaker and moderator. I have donated money to allow others to attend. I have coordinated other donations to allow people to attend. I have promoted their work, both on my blog and through multiple interviews on the radio. I have, of course, donated money directly.

With one exception, that ended yesterday. It doesn’t end because the board disagreed with me. They didn’t, exactly. If they had, I might still have done this based on the content of their disagreement. I might have decided that their values and mine were to far apart on questions I care about, and I might have decided to withdraw my support. I don’t know.

What I do know is that yesterday’s statement constituted grossly incompetent leadership. It declined to take any position at all, and it pretended that a constituency of skeptics and secular humanists weren’t going to notice if only the language in which it waffled was vague enough. It wouldn’t have passed muster even by the low standards of a political debate.

I want the leadership of our movement to be effective and to represent the interests of the people in our movement. I won’t support any organization that is this incredibly bad at that. How could I trust a board that can’t even answer the question: Does your CEO’s behavior at a particular place and time speak for you as an organization?

So I’m done with all the work to promote CFI national. I’m done with their conferences, both as an attendee and in working to increase their attendance. That will go to organizations that–at a bare minimum–manage to look like they know what they’re doing. I will, however, as strange as this may sound, restart my monthly contributions to CFI.

These contributions will be earmarked for Melody Hensley’s salary. They can have my money as long as they support her. Given that Melody has stood up to Ron Lindsay publicly on several occasions recently*, and given that Lindsay is turning CFI into a personal playground for the exercise of his grudges, and given that the board of CFI can’t seem to make up their minds how they feel about him doing that, I feel that supporting her directly is worthwhile. Also, given that the board gave no indication that they even bothered to read any of the letters addressed to them, I feel that my support should be expressed in something I would hope even the most incompetent board can understand.

If you currently contribute to CFI and you’re trying to figure out what to do about that, feel free to join me. If you want to withdraw your support entirely, I understand that too. Whatever you do, however, tell CFI about it and tell them why you’re doing it. I know it’s easier to just walk quietly away, but it’s also very easy to ignore people walking quietly away. It’s easy to say, “They didn’t really do it for any particular reason. I mean, people come and go, you know.” So if you make a change because of Lindsay’s actions or the board’s, tell them.

I will.

*I’ve had a question on what I’m talking about here. Melody gave a speech on Friday night of the confernce that was everything Ron Lindsay”s should have been. It focused on concrete accomplishments in the last year and on the positive potential of the conference. Whether she intended it this way or not, that speech was a stark rebuke to her boss. The comments she left on his posts on the CFI blog also left little doubt that his behavior at the conference did not make her life easier.

What I'm Doing About That

27 thoughts on “What I'm Doing About That

  1. 1

    Frankly, if Melody is still an employee of CFI by the end of the year — maybe even the end of the summer — I’ll be very much surprised.

  2. 2

    Also, given that the board gave no indication that they even bothered to read any of the letters addressed to them…

    Yeah, it’s kind of like talking to a wall.

  3. 3

    Earmarking charitable contributions, unfortunately, is useless. Unless your earmark actually increases Ms. Hensley’s salary — and it won’t — it’s just a paper shuffle. This is the main reason I stopped donating to my company’s “United Way” type charity and doing my own, so I could send it where I wanted.

  4. 4

    No, it’s not useless. It means they can’t have or use my donations if Melody is no longer there. It means that if they replace her with someone else, they have to replace that money as well.

  5. 5

    I’m dubious about this “earmark your contribution for specific use” idea. Do organizations really do that? It would take a lot of bookkeeping, as opposed to just chucking all the checks into one bank account. They’d need separate accounts for every specific thing that some donor would write on a check (“staff salary”, “Melody’s salary”, “student outreach,” etc. etc.). As well as keeping tabs on how much of, for example, Melody’s salary is deducted from the general operations fund and how much from the special contributions account.

    I doubt any organization does this willingly. And you say this one can’t manage to notify you when your CC expires, so even if they were willing, are they competent to do it? I’m surprised you trust them to honor your wishes as to the disbursal of your donation, when you have zero control.

  6. 7

    I’m not a lawyer, but I think not using an earmarked contribution for its stated purpose is not legal. The donator is saying, you can use my money, but only for this thing. If you use it for something else, my layperson’s guess would be that it would violate the implied contract.

  7. 8

    When I worked at the Red Cross, we had to be very careful. If someone earmarked a contribution, we had to use it for that. This led to problems when there was a disaster and everyone donated to that disaster, which left our other programs struggling for funds. After the Oklahoma City bombing (this was the OKC Red Cross), we received so much earmarked money that a couple of years later there were unused funds in that account, because we received more than we required for that particular disaster. I don’t know what they finally did with that, because there were legal issues to shifting it to other funds, and I had left there before that was resolved. So, who knows? If you’ve earmarked money to Melody’s salary, and she leaves, there might be a big pot of money staring them in the face that they can’t use.

  8. 9

    But – and I’m asking honestly here, because I don’t see how this works – money is fungible. So they take your money earmarked for $PURPOSE, and put it in the $PURPOSE account. But they’re not going to give her a raise with it, they’re just going to take that amount of the general fund money that they would have used for her salary, and use it somewhere else, aren’t they?

    I promise I’m not being disingenuous, just confused – what’s the safeguard against them simply getting around it like that? Am I missing something? Is there a law or regulation in the US that prevents this? The nonprofits whose boards I’ve been on here in Canada would have been able to fungiblize their way around such an earmark, were someone to make one (these were a community theatre and an adult soccer league, so it didn’t come up).

  9. 11

    Ahhh, I see it now, thank you. It has the effect of a minimum guarantee on the salary – pay her this much at least, or you don’t get the money.

    Thanks for explaining it, that makes much more sense now.

  10. 12

    I’m going to provide another personal anecdote about earmarking:

    The geology department of the school that I got my undergraduate degree from had an incredibly elaborate and expensive floor in the lobby. This thing was multicolored, was made of stone (not tile), and contained a rather fancy artistic design.

    Was my school a rich school? No, it was not. The dorm that I lived in was inches away from being condemned (it was apparently tilting and cracked in some way) and had all kinds of issues independent of that (it had trouble getting hot water to the top floor). And it was this way for a good number of buildings on campus; some of them were just in really bad shape. The department that I was going to school in even still had chalk boards when even my high school had whiteboards.

    So what was going on with the floor? Well, someone had made a very, very large donation that was earmarked for renovating the geology building. Because of this earmarking, they couldn’t use it for anything else. In fact, they couldn’t even use it to equip the very expensive labs that the money had built, which resulted in some very fancy rooms with very poor and limited equipment. Because they had more money than they could use on what was necessary for the renovations, the money went into things that weren’t necessary but still counted as renovating the geology building. Hence, the floor.

    I’ve also solicited and distributed donated funds before, and it’s always been quite clear that we can’t move the money away from its earmarked location. This can cause all kinds of issues if the funds are earmarked for, say, a door and what we really need is a window; we’ll end up with a very fancy door and no window at all. It’s why every interaction I’ve had with a charity encourages people to not earmark their donations if at all possible.

    Anyway, as with ischemgeek, I’m not a lawyer, but something that people may want to consider is earmarking their donations for paying Melody, period, instead of paying her salary. From my understanding, this would allow them to give her the money even if it wasn’t through her salary, like maybe in a bonus or some such thing (assuming you want that to be a possibility).

  11. 13

    I wouldn’t trust CFI with a directed contribution—If I suspect my money isn’t used as specified what’s my recourse? Asking them, so they can wish to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding my recent donation?

  12. 14

    Earmarked money.
    Lindsay/CFI could choose to ignore the earmarks, of course. But doing so would ensure that an ever-increasing number of persons flatly refuse to donate any money whatsoever to CFI, for any purpose. Well, assuming anybody outside of CFI ever becomes aware of the whole blowing-off-the-earmarks deal, doing so would ensure that consequence.
    So, in the hypothetical case that Lindsay/CFI does choose to ignore the earmarks, either (a) their donation stream takes a nontrivial (and continually embiggening!) hit… or else CFI/Lindsay thinks they can keep anybody outside of CFI from becoming aware of the whole blowing-off-the-earmarks deal. Which seems… unlikely, at best, given that there are people within the CFI organization who are decidedly not on board with Lindsay’s misogyny-friendly attitude. So any earmark-ignoring would have to be done in such a way as to ensure that feminist CFI staffers are kept out of the loop…
    I suspect Sun Tzu would approve. Ms. Zvan.

  13. 16

    I am a person who is in the progress of trying to fight some pretty intense social anxiety so getting involved at any level is a problem at the moment. What would any of you recommend is a good approach for writing a letter as a person who is no currently involved with CFI?

  14. 17

    I’ll toss out my own cynical view–I’ve done both paid and volunteer work for non-profits. A CEO with the bit in his teeth and a board on permanent vacation is a deep systemic problem. Unless I’m willing to go all in–such as running for the board myself–I run like hell. The place is busted and further engagement is only prolonging the agony for everyone. Having said that, your decision has certainly made me think about the merits of your approach.

  15. 18

    De-lurking here.
    My .02 re: earmarking. Non-profits take donations very seriously, and could lose their non-profit status if they screw around with charitable contributions. And yes, it does take a bit of bookkeeping, which is why non-profits ought to have a bookkeeper. Non-profit bookkeeping is hugely important in getting grants, transparency to their donors, and accountability to the govt. So I think it is a great idea to earmark it for Melody. And re: paper shuffling. If Stephanie’s money is only for Melody, the amount they need to raise for operating is exactly that much less. So it does make a difference there too.

  16. 22

    ^And the board didn’t even mention Lindsay by name, implying that they’re treating him as…what is it they usually use for radical right-wingers who harass doctors and firebomb abortion clinics…”isolated incident”…”just an extremist”…yeah, that’s it.

  17. 23

    Not even 2¢ worth:

    The take-away lesson from your incident with the expired credit card is that this charatable organization is seriously mismanaged. In the face of that experience I cannot imagine how you can trust them to recognize your earmark and “take care” that your money will go where you want it to.

    Find some other way to get contributions to MH. Make her a “special consultant” to your local group and pay her for it (i.e., a sinecure). Send her cash every month. Do something else than allow these people, who have proven to you on a personal level that they can’t handle money, handle your money.

    And while you’re thinking about fiduciary responsibility, how well are they doing “equal pay for equal work?” How well do they monitor staff expense accounts? How well do they budget staff travel? How well do they recycle office paper? Etc. Etc. Etc, to quote Yul Brynner (who?)


  18. 24

    Lindsay/CFI could choose to ignore the earmarks, of course.

    Not legally, they can’t. I was just at a nonprofit board meeting this week in which we were told that although donations are way up, the operating budget is still in trouble because all of the donations were restricted (earmarked). It is quite possible for an org. to be swimming in money and still not be able to function.

    Although, there are rules governing how you can take tax writeoffs on restricted donations, so keep that in mind too. If you earmark the funds specifically for someone’s salary, you might not be able to claim it as a charitable donation.

  19. 25

    I assume that your earmarked donation would move to a different recipient if a particular employee of CFI were to move that said recipient.

  20. 27

    sez me: “Lindsay/CFI could choose to ignore the earmarks, of course.”

    sez carlie: “Not legally, they can’t.”

    Maybe so, but at this point I just don’t feel it would be prudent to assume that either (a) Lindsay can keep his disdain for feminism from getting in the way of his normal ‘better not do that’ self-censors, or (b) CFI’s board is willing to rein Lindsay in when he does something questionable.

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