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Should I support charities with leadership scandals?

Matt Holderness Portrait Matt Holderness
5 min

Recent controversies involving leaders like Ravi Zacharias of RZIM and Mike Pilavachi of Soul Survivor have left many people asking questions about whether it’s okay to support these ministries or if they should move their donations elsewhere.

Prevention is always better than cure, which shows why paying attention to proper governance is important BEFORE something goes wrong. However, when it does go wrong, can we ever separate a charity from the actions of its leader? Moral and ethical lapses on the part of leaders are one thing, but sometimes scandals can be complex, with people within the organisation turning a blind eye and quietening whistle blowers. 

These types of situations should rightly challenge us to think about who we support and why. 

It’s important that support is given to organisations that carry out important gospel work, but they must also be charities that have a good standing and can be supported with a good conscience.

In this blog we’ll talk through the main issues surrounding leadership scandals and suggest three ways you could think about your giving to charities.

To give or not to give

When scandals first surface, some people will immediately withdraw their support because of their principles. Others emphasise the importance of continuing to fund Christian ministries despite the leadership controversies because the ministry is about more than the failures of one person. 

When news of the 2018 Oxfam scandal in Haiti first surfaced, Minnie Driver and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both removed their support from the charity.

However, others thought differently. The Times newspaper reported a rise in one-off donations to Oxfam’s work, while The Guardian publicly called upon readers to continue to support the charitiy. ‘I am sad and angry about what happened in Haiti and Chad,’ wrote author Mark Haddon, ‘but I am also sad and angry that people in the UK who had no interest whatsoever in the welfare of those people are now occupying the moral high ground or, worse, using this crisis as a way of furthering their own campaign against overseas aid in general.’

So, which side is right? Should we continue to give to charities embroiled in scandals or do we vote with our giving and walk away?

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Put your money where your passion is

Withdrawal of support doesn’t signify a rejection of generosity or devaluation of the significance of charitable work. On the contrary, discontinuing support can send a powerful message about the standards we want to see exemplified within the charities we support. 

As noted above, the misconduct within these ministries is often not solely on the leader but can also involve attempts to conceal wrongdoing. When faced with such lapses in integrity, choosing to withhold financial support becomes a potent tool in urging charities to re-evaluate and uphold their mission with greater accountability.

We often choose to give to a charity because it closely aligns with our own values and where we want to see the gospel grow. If our heart no longer feels connected to that ministry because of the scandal, then it might be better to find another one that is.

Acknowledge efforts to rectify wrongdoing from scandals

Staying engaged does not always equate to turning a blind eye to misconduct; instead, it can acknowledge the organisation’s efforts to rectify wrongdoing. If there’s a genuine commitment from leadership to correct their course, then perhaps reformation and improvement is the best course of action.

Making a decision that works for you

Therefore, supporters need to decide whether they can better effect change through boycotting or by remaining loyal and advocating for change from within.

The answer is not clear-cut. 

There will be times when it will be unclear if an organisation is responding well or not. Processes can be lengthy, especially when a board is balancing legal obligations to all affected parties. Therefore, in some circumstances, it may be sensible to wait on making a decision until a clearer picture emerges. In that circumstance it may be advisable to stop giving and start again depending on the context.  

It’s a personal decision, requiring careful discernment and an understanding of the complexities involved, but here are three things you should consider before withdrawing your support.

1. Transparency and accountability

Carefully assess the organisation’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Has the leadership been open about the issues at hand, or have they attempted to conceal or downplay the situation? Evaluate the steps the organisation has taken to address the problem, such as implementing disciplinary measures and ensuring that corrective actions are in place. A charity willing to be transparent and held accountable for its mistakes is more likely to not make the same mistakes again.

2. Demonstrated change and reform

Consider whether the charity’s leadership has demonstrated a sincere commitment to change and reform. Have they taken tangible steps to rectify the issues, such as restructuring, implementing new policies or undergoing external reviews? A genuine effort to learn from past mistakes and make significant changes indicates a willingness to evolve and adhere to higher standards. On the other hand, a lack of visible reform may suggest a continuation of problematic practices.

3. Impact of withdrawal vs. support

Evaluate the potential impact of your decision on the charity’s ability to fulfil its mission. Consider the consequences of withdrawing support and whether it might hinder the organisation’s impact on the communities it serves. Conversely, continuing support should be contingent on the charity’s ability to address and rectify the issues at hand. Striking a balance between holding organisations accountable and recognising the potential harm caused by sudden withdrawal is crucial in making an informed decision.

For more on this subject, read The Dangers of Dominating Leadership: Four critical factors for healthy, generous and effective leadership.

 

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Written by

Matt Holderness

Matt joined Stewardship in 2022 with over twenty years of marketing experience from marketing roles at Kendal College and Capernwray Bible School. He has degrees in Business and Marketing, Management Studies, Theology, and most recently a Masters in Hermeneutics. 

Through raising awareness of Stewardship’s services, Matt helps people explore the impact their generosity can have on the church and Christian charities. He’s passionate about supporting Evangelism and Bible causes, and has a particular interest in charities that are helping people in Poverty and Debt in the UK.