July 19, 2018; NPR, “Business”
Rejecting donations to remain principled in action is not new to the nonprofit sector. Over the years, NPQ has outlined ways to deal with tainted donors and highlighted the cases of universities, advocacy groups, and youth development organizations that have declined gifts based on ethical concerns. RAICES, a Texas-based nonprofit assisting in reuniting migrant families, is the latest to openly reject a sizable donation from a well-known corporate donor—in this case, Salesforce. Salesforce is a S&P 500 company founded in 2001 and known for providing customer relations management (CRM) software and services. In 2017, the company had more than $8 billion in revenues and more than 30,000 employees.
Since RAICES’s meteoric rise in visibility, an outpouring of financial support has come from multiple sources, including Salesforce, which contacted RAICES to offer a $250,000 donation as part of its $1 million pledge to “help families separated at the US border.” But RAICES rejected the donation, adding its voice to those already demanding that the liberal/progressive-imaged company end its contract with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A statement released by executive director Jonathan Ryan said:
When it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane, and illegal policies, we want to be clear: the only right action is to stop. The software and technical services you provide to CBP form part of the foundation that helps ICE operate efficiently, from recruiting more officers to managing vendors. While you justified continuing your contract with CBP by claiming that Salesforce software “isn’t working with CBP regarding the separation of families at the border,” this is not enough.
Your software provides an operational backbone for the agency, and thus does directly support CBP in implementing its inhumane and immoral policies. There is no way around this, and there is no room for hair splitting when children are being brutally torn away from parents, when a mother attempts suicide in an effort to get her children released, and when an 18-month-old baby is separated from their mother in detention.
Ryan added, “We stand for Justice and Justice is not for sale.”
Currently, RAICES relies heavily on government funding, which may soon dry out as the current administration seeks to decrease funds for immigration services. Last fiscal year, RAICES’s total assets were less than $4 million, and with more than 2,500 families still in need of reunification, the urgency to respond to this crisis would make any nonprofit hesitant to turn down financial support that could possibly expand its direct programming. Despite these realities, by standing firm and rejecting the donation, RAICES is further reinforcing its principles to its stakeholders.
While Salesforce has decided not to end its contract, citing that it is not directly related to immigration enforcement, the company is still experiencing increasing pressure from employees to do so. Similar to other tech giants, Salesforce has positioned itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility, most notably with its creation of the Pledge 1% initiative, in which the company seeks to donate one percent of its product, equity, and time to select nonprofits. Additionally, the company has addressed social issues head-on, so it should come as no surprise that employees are demanding the company to take a similar stance against deportations.
Last month, more than 650 Salesforce employees signed a petition asking the CEO and founder Marc Benioff to reconsider its current contract with CBP, stating, “We cannot cede responsibility for the use of the technology we create—particularly when we have reason to believe that it is being used to aid practices so irreconcilable to our values.” Additionally, a growing number of nonprofit customers, including Greenpeace International and the New York State Nurses Association, have joined in opposition. In an open letter, the group calls for Benioff to immediately cut its contract with CBP, asserting that the company is “enabling the agency to violate human rights.”
The situation between RAICES and Salesforce highlights the need for a discussion of charitable gift policies by nonprofits. The public notices these kinds of gift rejections as
out of the norm, highlighting that the reputational capital accrued for standing for integrity and group values can be significant. Additionally, this experience works to establish an environment of accountability for corporations, denying them the refuge of philanthropy to cloak depravity. For nonprofits, this experience might highlight the need to withdraw from using the products and services of companies that inflict harm. By publicly rejecting Salesforce’s donation, RAICES is calling for companies, nonprofits and society at large to address the root causes of deportations: the systems (technology, human capital, policy and financial resources) that undergird it.—Chelsea Dennis