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Should I Cut Off Support for My Charity?

Don’t make a knee-jerk response to every issue involving a particular charity. Determine whether the organization is remaining true to its principles in its overall activities.

Q: My husband and I disagree about whether we should continue donating to charities that are doing things we don’t approve of. For example, our college alma maters invite ideologues to give commencement speeches, spend too much on sports and have added lightweight courses to the curriculum. The local theater company’s idea of entertainment now includes X-rated plays. I think we should send a strong message by withdrawing our support. My husband says we should consider the value of the organization’s broad mission. What do you think?

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Nonprofits have a hard time pleasing everyone in their various constituent groups, and even the most thoughtfully managed are going to irritate someone from time to time — maybe often. As a longtime friend and donor, you have a perfect right — indeed, obligation — to express your views in a variety of ways, including through letters to trustees, volunteer activism and, as a last resort, a suspension of financial support. Maybe others in an organization’s leadership feel as you do and will help effect change.

But please don’t make a knee-jerk response to every issue. Determine whether the charity is remaining true to its core mission and principles in its overall activities, and whether you still view the breadth of its programs to be socially useful. If so, I would suggest that you express your disapproval of particular incidents as they arise but not withdraw your support unless you feel that the charity has, in your opinion, lost its way and isn’t likely to find its way back.

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Even then, rather than going away mad forever, tell the institution that you are suspending your support for a period of time (and for what reason) while you reassess the situation. And then do just that: Keep abreast of its activities to see whether you might feel differently later. In the meantime, look around for other nonprofits whose activities are better aligned with your personal values.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

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