Nonprofit news roundup for Dec. 29, 2008

Madoff scam has far-reaching effects

Of 55 larger U.S. foundations surveyed by United Jewish Communities, seven lost money through their investments with New York investment manager Bernard Madoff, says Joseph Berkman in a blog on the JTA website Dec. 26. The foundation of Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel lost $15.2 million, nearly all of its assets, in Madoff’s alleged $50 billion scam, The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 24. U.S. foundations that invested with Madoff donated more than $73 million to nonprofits last year, according to foundation tax returns, Bloomberg reported Dec. 26.

Boy Scouts set sights on Hispanics

The Boy Scouts of America, with 2.8 million members the largest youth organization in the U.S., is scrambling to recruit Hispanics before succumbing to tanking numbers, the Associated Press reported Dec. 27. The organization is launching pilot programs in six metropolitan areas heavily populated by Hispanics, hiring Spanish-speaking staff and partnering with churches that serve Hispanics. Since hitting its peak membership in 1972, the Boy Scouts has seen its enrollment drop after a string of scandals related to exaggerating membership numbers and banning gay and atheist leaders. The organization hopes to offset this trend by bringing in more Hispanics, who account for one in five U.S. children under the age of 18, but make up only 3 percent of Scouts.

Athletes’ foundations fall short of goals

Charitable foundations created by professional athletes face substantial challenges, most caused by a lack of philanthropic experience, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Dec. 28 (see athlete story). Though charities launched by professional basketball players reported combined revenue of at least $31 million between 2005 and 2007, only about 44 cents of every dollar raised, or $14 million, went toward charitable causes, says an analysis by the newspaper. Many foundations created by athletes suffer from lax documentation, poor management and an unreliable stream of funding.

Biggest universities falling hardest

Public universities and large research institutions are getting hit harder by the economic crisis than are many smaller liberal-arts schools that rely primarily on tuition and fees, The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 25 (see school story). As the downturn prompts many to flee the job market in pursuit of advanced degrees, colleges that depend on tuition to fund campus expansions and faculty salaries may be on more solid ground next year. By contrast, state colleges and wealthy universities are announcing cutbacks to compensate for drops in state funding and devastating endowment losses.

Fundraisers pocket bulk of donations

Massachusetts fundraisers kept nearly two-thirds of the more than $284 million they raised for charities in 2007, says a report from the state attorney general’s office, the Associated Press reported Dec. 29. A similar report from the California attorney general noted that that state’s fundraising firms gave less than half of the $370 million raised last year to the charities they were hired to help, The San Jose Mercury News reported Dec. 24. In some cases, charities wound up spending more than they received from professional fundraisers. The Tulare, Calif.-based American Veterans of World War II and the Santa Ana, Calif.-based Association for Firefighters and Paramedics received just 10 cents on the dollar for the money they spent on five separate fundraisers.

In Brief:

* Even as their endowments shrivel, Minnesota foundations are stepping up by providing funds, volunteers and technical assistance to ailing nonprofits, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Dec. 27.

* The Bowdoin College endowment, which stood at $831.5 million as of June 30, since dropped 17 percent, The Times Record reported Dec. 24.

* President-elect Barack Obama should create a cabinet position to oversee cultural institutions and ensure that America’s heritage is not lost in the economic upheaval, says William Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in an opinion column in The New York Times Dec. 26.

* A handful of Great Britain’s wealthy philanthropists are filling the void left by cash-strapped corporate and individual donors, The Independent reported Dec. 27. Thirty top philanthropists provided 2.3 billion British pounds, or $3.36 billion, to nonprofits this year.

* Bill Simon, who co-chairs the William E. Simon Foundation, champions conservative philanthropy in a time of rampant spending, says an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal Dec. 27.

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