Beg the question

Donors have right to ask how nonprofits are using their money

A class of conservative donors in Minnesota — many of them very generous — increasingly suspects that local nonprofits will divert their donations to underwrite woke political programs that repudiate their core values and disparage their contributions to society. And I’m one of those donors. I suspect grassroots donors share similar exasperations.

I have been investing, donating and raising money for organizations and startup companies for most of my adult life. I know many of these donors very well. They are community leaders who want to use some of the proceeds of their success to help sustain Minnesota’s quality of life. They want to build our culture, not tear it down.

A case in point: Most contributors will be shocked by Kathy Kersten’s expose (“Weaponizing History,” page 32) that describes how a clique of liberal activists has highjacked the mission and operations at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS).

Her account describes how these radicals are promoting a revisionist historical narrative “that paints Native Americans as good/victims and Minnesota settlers as evil/oppressors.” Further, she says, the historical society argues that Minnesota’s current residents are here illegally, and that the land “rightfully belongs to the Dakota Indians.”

Minnesotans have long admired the historical society’s solid public reputation. But Kathy’s piece repeatedly shows how its “new revisionist narrative is inconsistent with history as documented in its own extensive collections and publications.”

MNHS, she says, now casts Fort Snelling’s “rich, 200-year military legacy” as a site of “genocide and minority victimization.” Incredibly, its website even includes the logo of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, connecting it with sites of mass murders like Soviet gulags and Nazi death camps.

I had to read her piece twice before I could comprehend the surreal insolence of this effort. Why would a conservative or moderate donor want to contribute even a single dollar to an organization that traffics such absurdities?

The answer is, they wouldn’t. Or shouldn’t.

This current generation of donors has evolved from a proud history of community leaders who once headed locally grown companies — Pillsbury, Dayton’s, Cargill, General Mills, to name a few — primarily family-run entities that supported the economy of the Twin Cities. And because they lived here, they cared about our local quality of life. They, not the government, funded and helped operate the orchestras, theaters, youth groups and medical organizations that sustained our cultural wellbeing.

They were businesspeople who shared common values with their local communities. Things like the liberating principles of free enterprise, the significance of hard work and how the availability of meaningful jobs could provide the elixir that helps solve many of society’s ills. They took it for granted that two-parent families provided the gravitational center that sustained the safety and welfare of their communities.

The current generation of donors lives by those same values but, sadly, many of the nonprofits they support don’t. These organizations increasingly embrace the progressive agenda that non-white America is a culture of victims. They view the world through a lens of racism. They denounce capitalism, and now even deride the importance of traditional families.

Even though polling shows that the beliefs of radical progressives enjoy meager popularity in America, these activists have hip-checked their way to prominence through a combination of sheer audacity and the elite company they keep. They are loud and brash; they are unafraid to bend or even invent facts to support their arguments. And they’ve created a “cancel culture” that destroys anyone who disagrees with them. Their co-conspirators include a toadying media, unaccountable university cultures, the entertainment industry, professional sports leagues, and even Wall Street.

And I tell donors to watch carefully as this movement comes to a nonprofit near you. And I do mean watch carefully.

We’re hopeful that Thinking Minnesota will soon provide a comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon.

My guess is that our researchers will discover how easily woke insiders can co-opt nonprofit cultures. To start with, the kind of people that run or volunteer at nonprofits tend to share progressive ideologies. Plus, anyone watching AOC and her “tax the rich” gown at the Met gala might conclude that it’s become cool to show solidarity with that political movement.

They’ll observe how corporate leaders in Minnesota and America avoid these confrontations at all costs. I am personally mystified by the “woke capitalists” who currently occupy the C-suites of major corporations. It seems to me they have thrust a wet finger in the breeze and decided to follow the path of least political resistance. The displays of “Black Lives Matter” signage that decorate much of corporate America represent a vaccine against protest as much as any endorsement of the organization.

A final and looming reason for concern arises from what I predict will be a rise in public spending for nonprofits. Organizations that receive fat amounts of public funding become less responsive to their communities. The proposed Drunken Sailor spending bills in Washington will undoubtedly earmark social “infrastructure” dollars to help nonprofits operate from an AOC/Ilhan Omar playbook, free from the input of politically diverse boards of community donors.

Witness how public-school educators have imposed the public-be-damned “white privilege” curriculum in their classrooms. But also pay attention to the way local activists are mobilizing to prevent Critical Race Theory from infiltrating their hometown classrooms. And watch how they are working to eliminate efforts by bureaucrats at Minnesota’s Department of Education to redefine American history standards. (To see how American Experiment plays a role in that effort, look at page 16.)

The donor class can also make a difference. People who contribute to nonprofits often feel frustrated that organizations value their input solely in financial terms. They want your money and nothing else. We have to change that. Donors at the historical society, for example, should be pounding on doors and demanding accountability and community input. Major donors, in particular, have become community leaders through a track record of successfully getting things done. They/ we should apply the same discipline we use in business to how nonprofits spend “donors’ money.”

Someone recommended that local donors create a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” that examines how well nonprofits adhere to their core missions and avoid political distractions. I think that idea has merit. And urgency.