January 2, 2012; Source: USA Today | This is an interesting article in its speculations. The author, Sandra Block, suggests that spontaneous one-on-one giving, like the wave of K-Mart Christmas layaway payoffs, may be spurred on in part by a declining faith in charity, which in part may stem from high profile scandals. The author then goes on to list those scandals, which we trust we do not have to revisit here. Suffice it to say the list begins with Second Mile and the Central Asia Institute, and extends back to Father Bruce Ritter of Covenant House, exposed as a pedophile after having elevated himself to the status of near sainthood with his beautifully crafted direct mail campaigns.

Ms. Block goes over the common problems of insufficient oversight, conflicts of interest, including nepotism, and a leader that has celebrity status, and then goes on to say that such high-profile falls from grace may be causing a turning away from organized charity in favor of personal charity from one human being to another. Of course, there is nothing in formal research, as far as we know, that links the two phenomena but it is an interesting thought.

The author’s suggestion for givers is a decent one: she recommends getting to know the charity you give to before making the gift. Unfortunately, even this may not always be enough. We all want to believe in the people among us who appear to be extraordinary in their goodness, and many of them are in fact authentic—but the halo of charisma can hide a lot, and once we have elevated someone the fall can be hard for all involved.

All this is good reason to call each other out on organizational structures that appear to be infected with conflicts—or potential conflicts—of interest. Let’s start challenging one another to a higher standard on such stuff.—Ruth McCambridge