July 14, 2010; Source: Boston Herald | Would your nonprofit accept a charitable contribution from Mel Gibson? You remember, Mel Gibson of the slight tendency toward anti-Semitic tirades when stopped by the police? Or in this case, the Mel Gibson who is under investigation for domestic abuse and appears to have been taped by his Russian girlfriend and mother to his child, Oksana Grigorieva, spewing a litany of profanity-laden physical threats (allegedly calling her a “whore” and suggesting that she needs “a bat to the side of the head”)?
A battered women’s shelter, Casa Myrna Vazquez, in Boston received a check for $25,000 from the actor after a film shoot he did in Boston—before the Grigorieva tape, but after his acknowledged rant to a policeman that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” The shelter director admitted mixed feelings about the gift: “I am grateful that he or his production company did something for a nonprofit, but I like to think the condition for accepting the money is that the person contributing is not themselves an abuser.”
The shelter director says that she is sure that the organization’s board wouldn’t accept any future contributions from Gibson, though it’s not known whether he has offered more money. The issue isn’t easy. For the shelter, with indications of Gibson’s behavior that he is abusive, at least verbally at a minimum toward women, future gifts could be rejected. But what about charges that Gibson made strongly homophobic comments in an interview with Spain’s El Pais and refused to apologize for or retract them? What about his calling Latinos “wetbacks” and using the n-word to describe African-Americans?
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The wetback comment (along with threatening to have one of his employees turned over to immigration authorities) was enough to convince his agent, the William Morris Endeavor Company, to drop him a day later. For nonprofits, the issues might be more complex. Does using money from a bad guy for good purposes make it possible to accept money from someone charged with racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and domestic abuse? If we dig into the sources of charitable money from many individuals (and foundations), wouldn’t we also find long lists of behaviors and beliefs that most nonprofits would find reprehensible?
If your nonprofit doesn’t take the money, wouldn’t some other nonprofit get in line, accept the gift, and put the dollars to good use? Donor-acceptance guidelines are tough to write and tougher to put into practice. None of this is meant as a criticism of the people at Casa Myrna Vazquez, but as a case study of how complex it is to be a nonprofit raising money from rich people and wealthy corporations that might have sordid pasts, presents, and futures.—Rick Cohen