Turning down a Donation from Walmart: Ethical or Foolish?

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November 23, 2012; Source: Phoenix New Times

Just as the greed that is Black Friday has overwhelmed the country, a small charity in Tucson, Ariz. has spoken above the din by refusing to accept a donation of $2,000 from a local Walmart. Brian Flagg, the head of Casa Maria Free Kitchen, said he declined the donation because of Walmart’s treatment of its workers. He argues that although Walmart has low prices, he believes the mega-company’s low wages and anti-union stance would make this donation, in essence, “blood money.”

The Phoenix New Times cites the charity’s website describing the organization’s heritage as part of a Catholic pro-worker movement begun in New York City 80 years ago. The website states: “The Sermon on the Mount and the call to solidarity with the poor are the heart of these teachings.”

The offered gift would have been meaningful to the organization, representing approximately 10 percent of its 2010 annual operating budget, as reported in a newsletter posted on the website. With this, the organization serves food and drink to the hungry, visits prisoners, and other acts of charity to the poor and needy.

Flagg certainly stands by his code of ethics in taking this brave stance to turn down what would be a significant contribution. However, he also poses a hard ethical question for the rest of us in the sector when he states that if the gift had been $200,000 instead of $2,000 it would have been a lot harder to turn it down. What would you do if a donor who represents part of what you are fighting were to offer you nearly a year’s worth of unrestricted financial support?—Rob Meiksins

  • Jane Garthson

    Your question explains the importance of having a board-level discussion well in advance of any dangling cheque. Without a pending donation to consider, the directors and senior managers can focus on how to apply the organizational values to a donation policy. The donation policy can then be communicated in a way that helps staff and volunteer fundraisers know who not to approach, and what incoming payments not to accept.

    The board is always free to amend the policy, but bringing the problematic offer to that level also gives a chance to discuss under what conditions the policy would be changed or varied. For example, will the donor work with the charity about its labour policies? In this case, a local Walmart can’t change national anti-union policies, but they may have some leeway to adjust the wages to reflect the local economy, and/or provide extra training and development support so local workers could move up the wage scale.

  • AnninMidwest

    Hats off to Casa Maria Free Kitchen’s leadership for having the courage of their convictions. I think their choice was wise and hope it will encourage corporate leaders at Walmart to think harder about the choices they make and how equitable their distribution of wealth is, between management and labor.

  • Chuck Kaufman

    Alliance for Global Justice salutes Brian Flagg and the board of Casa Maria. I’ve occasionally volunteered at Casa Maria so I know first-hand the incredible work they do for those in Tucson who are most in need. I have no doubt that if the grant had been for $200,000, Casa Maria would have turned that down too. Admittedly it would have been a hard decision. While $2,000 may represent 10% of Casa Maria’s monetary budget, it is a pittance, indeed “blood money”, compared to its real budget. Casa Maria’s strength and ability to serve the community lies in the partnerships Brian has made with grocery stores and other food providers, with church groups who make thousands of sandwiches every day on a rotating basis, and on the dozens of volunteers who put in from 3-60 hours a week to put together the bags and serve the soups every day of the week. Casa Maria is a symbol of everything meant by the word “community” just as Wal-Mart is its antithesis.

  • Chaplain Mary Murphy

    We are a 50l(c)3 Faith-based nonprofit who would so appreciate one of your students helping us*identify the nonprofits who receive tax write-off without justifiable legal evidentiary evidence; and also those (Faith-based) who earn such preference by following the constitutional premises. Such a partnership can bring John l4:12 “Because you believe in Me greater works will you do than I for I go to My Father.”

    Veterans Village
    5388 W 40 Ave
    Wheat Ridge CO 80212-7230
    303 238 1456
    Mary Murphy, War Widow twice
    Former VA/Prison Chaplain/Marshal Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals

  • Cathie Dull

    You don’t chase the money, you chase the mission. It’s okay to turn down a donation if the donor doesn’t “fit” you. A donor who does “fit” is sure to follow soon after.

  • michael

    Here’s just some food for thought. Considering what American drones are doing to women and children in the Middle East, should women’s groups turn down federal grants as ‘blood money’?