“Crossing the Line,” Thomas Leth-Olsen
March 21, 2019; New York Times
Many fundraisers have experienced the terrible moment when a major donor steps out of line. You have been sent there to do a job and raise money for a cause you believe in. How much should you protest, given the greater good you are trying to do?
This morning’s account by ProPublica and the New York Times of the behavior of one major hedge fund donor towards at least seven women seeking funds for various causes exemplifies the problem. The donor, Michael Steinhardt, admits to boorish behavior that he minimizes as “part of his schtick” and “just plain dumb,” but the license he took with various women trying to do business with him in the names of various charities clearly and repeatedly abused his power position as a donor even after others objected.
“I always felt that it was like a game to him and that I had to put up with it and play along,” said an officer at one small nonprofit, “but it wasn’t an equal playing field.”
We will leave you to read the article describing his behavior, but we have been waiting for this #MeToo shoe to drop for some time.
Steinhardt’s foundations are reported to have given at least $127 million to charities over the past 16 years. One woman has brought suit against him. As this story unfolds, we may see a little deeper into how the organizations on whose behalf the women were fundraising reacted to their reports, but in at least one case it took a while to fully play out.
In one incident, the fundraiser said she reported the comments the next day to her CEO, who apologized and assured her that she would not have to meet with Steinhardt again. However, that organization, Hillel International, continued to accept donations from Steinhardt until last year when it commissioned an investigation, later refusing a $50,000 pledge.—Ruth McCambridge