Nonprofit news roundup for April 21, 2008

New Obama controversy centers on Chicago charity

The Woods Charitable Fund of Chicago has become a center of controversy for U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, due to his past service on the charity’s board alongside 1970s radical William Ayers, a former lieutenant in the Weather Underground, a group that espoused anarchist activities, The Wall Street Journal reported April 18. Rival Hillary Clinton has complained that reporters have largely ignored the friendly relationship between the two men.

What to do when donors go bad

Growing numbers of charities have been forced to confront two awkward questions: how to handle a donor who doesn’t pay, and what to do when a donor’s good name, already etched on a wall, goes bad, The Chicago Tribune reported April 15. Stuart Levine’s name recently came off the polar bear pen at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo after Levine made headlines for his involvement in the Tony Rezko corruption scandal and, officials say, after failing to follow through on payments on a $1 million pledge.

‘Philanthrocapitalists’ shouldn’t ignore politics, says Hunt

“Philanthrocapitalists” pride themselves on being “post-political,” but as a result, neglect to engage in some of the most important structural injustices that require political advocacy, Tristram Hunt said in an opinion column in The Guardian April 17. The bottom-line ethos of such “venture philanthropy,” which gradually is crossing the Atlantic to Britain, insists on business metrics while some inefficiencies can be inherent in effective civil society, Hunt said.

As food crisis worsens, many demand EU abandon biofuels

Many are demanding the European Union abandon biofuels, which some say are partly responsible for the current food crisis, Der Spiegel reported April 16. Made of grains and grass, resources that are increasingly precious as food prices soar, the eco-friendly fuels appear to have fewer environmental benefits than originally thought.

Is microfinance’s mission drifting?

As nonprofit microfinance organizations become regulated financial corporations, they often end up serving a smaller percentage of women, says a new study on mission-drift in microfinance, TIME Magazine reported April 17. The study did find benefits associated with commercialized institutions, which can reach more borrowers and offer new services like savings accounts, but also found evidence that the growth is pushing the interests of many institutions closer to those of their profit-seeking investors.

NYC Council aides allegedly embezzle through nonexistent charity

Two New York City Council aides have been accused of embezzling at least $145,000 in city funds funneled to a nonprofit that did not exist, The New York Times reported April 17. The Council has been under heavy scrutiny recently for its long-time practice of appropriating discretionary funds to nonexistent organizations, allowing council members to tap the money later for favored programs.

USAID proposes controversial aid-worker screening

A U.S. government proposal to screen foreign-aid workers, and the local organizations they work with, for links to terrorists will hinder poverty relief worldwide, said Oxfam America, The Kansas City infoZine reported April 18. The U.S. Agency for International Development has said it will go forward with its controversial Partner Vetting System, despite complaints from skeptical aid organizations, which believe the level of detail required will be “overly burdensome,” OMB Watch reported April 15.

In brief:

* Canada’s federal government is considering a bill to establish a national philanthropy day, an effort it hopes will shore up dwindling donor bases as demand for public services increases, CBC News reported April 16.

* Seattle University has launched a $160 million fundraising campaign, the largest in its history, The Seattle Times reported April 10.

* The Vatican has contributed at least $20,000 to a $120,000 shelter in Mexico for Central Americans traveling to the U.S., a move that angered immigration-control advocates just as Pope Benedict XVI begins his first official U.S. visit, The Arizona Republic reported April 16.

* Dubai Cares, a charity based in the United Arab Emirates, has announced a $1 billion project to fund education in 12 of the world’s poorest countries, Agence France-Presse reported April 16.

* The dispute over several artworks in Vienna’s Leopold collection reveals the extent to which many European art institutes are avoiding returning art looted by the Nazis, Der Spiegel reported April 4.

* Diana and Stephen Goldberg donated $25 million to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post reported April 17.

* Mining company Teck Cominco has given The British Columbia Children’s Hospital Foundation $25 million, possibly the largest donation to a British Columbia hospital, The Vancouver Sun reported April 16.

* The University of Arizona has received the world’s largest collection of vaudeville memorabilia, donated by two Boston collectors, The Arizona Republic reported April 18.

* A Wall Street private-equity firm was pitted against a hedge fund in an annual charity basketball game that raised money to buy court time for New York City high schools that lack their own facilities, Bloomberg News reported April 18.

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