A fight broke out this week between non-profit groups over fundraising. While not in direct competition for donor dollars, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance expressed its displeasure with Meijer, Inc. for participating in a fundraising event with the Humane Society of the United States. The program was set up to contribute money to a support Foreclosure Pets Fund, designed to give support to pet owners facing foreclosure.
Meijer suspended the program after fielding complaints from the Alliance that the chain was cooperating with an anti-hunting organization. What does pet foreclosure have to do with anti-hunting? An Alliance statement gets at the crux of the issue, pointing out, “The money donated to the HSUS through this promotion, while not going directly to its anti-hunting campaign, will free up money from the organization’s general fund that can be used to attack the right of sportsmen.”
That, my friends, is called fungibility, a fancy word that simply is used to identify the ability for money or funds to be transferred between sectors of a balance sheet and across budgets. I don’t want to adjudicate the dispute and attempt to determine whether or not the Humane Society really is anti-hunting, but the cogency of the Alliance’s argument hinges on a valuable lesson, what I’m calling here the “fungibility phenomenon.”
When you give to an organization and you earmark the funds to be used in a particular way, you may be inclined to think that your money is somehow isolated from the rest of the non-profit’s budget. Depending on the by-laws of the organization, that may or may not be the case. Unless there is a minmum set amount that the organization determines it will spend on an area irrespective of special and specific additional donation, any funds that are contributed to that particular area lessen the demand for money to come from other parts of the budget.
The fungibility phenomenon isn’t restricted to non-profits, of course. Corrupt governments have been taking advantage of this phenomenon domestically through state lotteries and internationally through government-to-government foreign aid for decades.
But for the discerning giver, it’s important to note that the fungibility phenomon means that when you give, whether or not you specify a particular need or area for the funds to be used, generally you are supporting the mission of the recipient organization in all its facets, some which you may not like.
And if you’re looking for a charity whose mission you can unreservedly support, the Samaritan Guide is a great place to start.