Wednesday, September 10, 2008

'The Godfather Of Black Fundraising' Urges NY Gov. Paterson To Re-Instate BUFNY!!!

August 20, 2008

The Honorable David Patterson


State of New York

Albany, NY

Dear Governor Patterson:

I am writing to you regarding the Black United Fund of New York. I am a university researcher and have conducted studies of fundraising organizations and activities in black communities for over 30 years. The Black United Fund movement has been my specific focus. My research has shown that since its inception, the Black United Fund movement across the United States has been focused on community building, economic empowerment, and asset development. This represented a departure from traditional American charities but was based on the unique economic history of African American communities. The black funds sought to use the African American contributions to correct long-standing economic deprivation in the African American community. In that sense these funds approached charity in ways that were distinct from the United Way that tends to invest in individual agencies. The distinction makes good sense in that the communities historically supported by United Way did not have either such a history nor a current pattern of poverty as found in African American communities. Regrettably, this community-specific pattern taken by black funds was poorly understood and in some instances seen as threatening to traditional charities.

The Black United Fund sought to harness the charitable dollar from within the African American community through payroll deductions. This intent had never been tried by more mainstream black organizations such as NAACP, PUSH, UNCF, or the Urban League. More importantly, this approach brought the Black United Fund into direct competition with the more powerful United Way for access to payroll deductions.

Until the development of the Black United Fund, United Way monopolized contributions and exerted maximum control over the distribution of charitable dollars and agencies throughout the U.S. The United Way yielded their hold on community funds only after considerable pressure and legal suits initiated by the Black United Fund. I submit that the success of the Black United Fund movement threatened and challenged United Way organizations and brought about numerous efforts to close down black funds throughout the country. Conflict and competition between the two national organizations has remained intense over the past 30 years. However, there has not been a basis for legal challenge to the status of the black funds and rarely has there been cause for governmental intervention.

I am concerned that actions by former Attorney General Spitzer to close the Black United Fund of New York may have been inadvertently initiated by false and misleading information. The charges that the fund used its contributions in ways that were not sanctioned by its contributors are historically false. My research shows clearly that the original purpose of these black funds was to take a non-traditional charitable route that would focus on the economic disparities in African American communities. This vision of charity allows the organization to make investments, acquisition of real assets, and redistribute capital in ways that are designed to increase the economic power of the African American community. The actions by Mr. Spitzer appear to have been based on a more traditional view of community funds and resulted in the precipitous closure of the fund, replacement of its board and executive staff, and the dissolution of its assets. That is such an extreme action that has few precedents in the history of American charity. Where such action has been taken previously, there has been considerable evidence of financial impropriety or the actions have been preceded by lengthy investigation and the filing of charges. However, in my assessment of the New York Black United Fund and in review of the public record, I cannot find any justification for these actions. In various newspaper articles, there are statements made about findings, but nothing has been made public for researchers in black philanthropy to examine objectively. Mr. Spitzer’s action collapsed one of the most viable black philanthropic organizations in the United States without public notice and without evidence of behavior that is contrary to the law governing charities. In addition, there were no substantiated charges of mismanagement, financial impropriety, or conflict of interest ever filed against the Black United Fund of New York, its executives, or its citizen board. Since the removal of the staff and board of the fund, the former viable organization has essentially ceased to function and no accounting has been rendered about how its assets were distributed. It is ironic that the headquarters of one of the most functional black charities in America is now occupied by a bar. As a long-term researcher on black fund raising, I would be interested in reviewing the record, charges, and evidence that justifies the action against the New York Black United Fund and its officers. Can your office supply me with this information?

I urge that your office and that of the current attorney general review this matter. The closure of a black philanthropy is of national significance. If there is legal justification for the closure of the Black United Fund of New York, that evidence should be shared widely with the community and with all interested parties. However, if as I believe, there is no evidence, every effort must be made to reinstate the fund, compensate it for its losses, and assist in rebuilding its reputation and position in the charitable community. The actions by Mr. Spitzer have done harm to the fund, its reputation in the community, and its ability to raise funds from its natural constituency. The task before you and the remnants of the fund is extremely complex.

If I can be of assistance to you and your staff in the resolution of this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me. I have made a similar offer to Mr. Eady and members of his former board of directors. I have been unable to contact the interim director or the members of the interim board of directors appointed by Mr. Spitzer.


King Davis, Ph.D.

Professor and Robert Lee Sutherland Chair in Mental Health and Social Policy

The University of Texas at Austin

1 University Station, D3500

Austin, Texas 78712

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