Abandoned,” Kevin Doncaster

July 8, 2020; USA Today

Earlier this week, NPQ ran a story about the decision by the Washington, DC football team—under pressure from some of its leading corporate sponsors—to launch a taskforce to reconsider the team’s name, with most observers expecting the name will be changed before the fall 2020 National Football League season begins.

As part of that story, NPQ’s Jason Schneiderman covered the long history of resistance to changing the team name, including, the pièce de résistance, the creation by team owner Dan Snyder of the Original Americans Foundation in 2014, an effort widely seen as designed to “manufacture acceptance of the team’s name through strategic philanthropic influence.”

As NPQ’s Rick Cohen detailed years ago when Snyder created the foundation, Snyder sought to deflect claims from naysayers saying the foundation was just an attempt to try to bribe Native American opponents of the team’s name to look the other way. Rather, Snyder claimed his foundation was motivated by his desire to provide financial support to Native American causes. As Snyder wrote in the letter announcing the foundation’s formation, “The more I’ve heard, the more I’ve learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community.”

Well, it so happens that the foundation continues to exist. What difference is the foundation making through grants to Native American communities? How much did it give out this past year?

Well, now we know. Tom Schad from USA Today reports that, according to an audited financial statement, the Original Americans Foundation distributed a grand total of “$0 in grants or donations to Native American causes during the fiscal year ending Feb. 28, 2019—the most recent year for which records are publicly available.”

That’s right. Zero. Nothing. Nada.

Schad notes that, “The absence of financial giving in the 2019 fiscal year is part of a steep decline since the foundation’s inaugural year.” Schad adds that the foundation “donated nearly $3.7 million to Native American causes in that first year, but less than half that amount ($1.6 million) in Year 2. The foundation subsequently donated about $650,000 in the 2017 fiscal year, $303,000 in the 2018 fiscal year, and $0 in the 2019 fiscal year, according to tax records.”

In short, Schad notes, the foundation has been spending “more money maintaining its own staff than it has directed to Native American causes in each of the two most recent years for which records are publicly available.”

Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at Ohio State, tells Schad that the organization’s finances paint the picture of a foundation that is “just kind of hovering out there. They’ve shifted away from providing grants to charities that are engaged in these areas. They’ve, in fact, shifted to a level of zero.”

Mittendorf adds, “I guess the big question, you would say, is, what is it they’re doing instead? And it’s largely paying salaries. How that translates to the charitable outcomes is unclear.”

Mittendorf tells Schad he found the foundation’s financial records to be quite unusual. As Mittendorf observes, “It’s certainly rare for a private foundation to not engage in grantmaking, and not engage in direct charitable activity, either.”—Steve Dubb