Charitable Intent

A lot of people won't give panhandlers money if they think they will spend it on booze. But they will hand over their pocket change if the recipient promises to spend it on a hot meal. The panhandlers know this. So do charity fundraisers, who instinctively agree to spend contribution money on the things donors say they want. But what happens if, like the panhandler who buys a beer instead of a meal with your dollar, a local food bank spends your dollar on training instead of feeding a hungry person?

In both cases your "donor intent" was thwarted. You gave money for one reason, and the recipient used it for another. Can you sue? Clearly, you wouldn't sue a homeless person for buying a beer, but increasingly donors are using the courts to force the food bank to feed the hungry.

These numbers help explain why the Red Cross met such a barrage of criticism when it was found to have put aside fully half of the millions in contributions it received for the victims of the September 11 attacks to be used for future disasters. They also explain why Congress continues to consider a new set of charity regulations.

Unless aggrieved donors settle their lawsuits, the courts are likely to have the first word on donor intent before Congress and the state legislatures address the issue. It is unknown just how much respect they will accord the donors, but if the polls are right, it should be quite a lot.


Bruce D. Collins

Bio and more articles

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.