Blood donors have right to know where money goes

CharitySocial IssuesCorporate OfficersInterstate 4

When Bob Horner found out that Anne Chinoda, CEO of Florida's Blood Centers, was making $500,000 a year, he got angry.And when he learned that some of the nonprofit's board members and their companies were involved in millions of dollars of deals with the agency they were supposedly watchdogging, he got angrier still.

Horner, after all, said he was a regular blood donor. And he had no idea his veins were helping pump so much money in so many directions.So Horner fired off an e-mail to the nonprofit's top employees, saying the big spending made him "think twice about donating my blood."

In response, Blood Centers public-relations manager Larry Ganns responded: "Hardly anyone will pick up this story and run with it because the Sentinel is largely irrelevant. It's not like Anne took stimulus money and purchased a G5. Wake me up when you have news."

Not exactly the response Horner expected.

Blood Centers officials later said that Ganns' e-mail "in no way" represented the sentiments of the centers' management and that it was sent in error.

But they have done little to respond to a public increasingly skeptical of big payouts during tough times.

And it's not just here where big paychecks and boardroom deals reveal an unflattering underbelly of the nonprofit world.

From the largest Boy Scouts council in Oregon to a troubled housing agency in Charlotte, media and government are investigating questionable deals between board members and their charities.

States such as Texas and Vermont are talking about reining in megasalaries for leaders of nonprofits that receive tax money or take advantage of tax-exempt status.

Back here in Orlando, our own convention and visitors bureau is facing questions about exorbitant salaries and travel expenditures -- neither of which it appears many board members even knew about.

And make no mistake: This stuff is the public's business.

The U.S. government requires nonpro- fits to disclose details about how they spend their money for a reason. Because donors -- of blood or money -- have a right to know.

And if they want to ask about the $807,000 the Blood Centers spent on travel in 2006, according to tax forms, or a retreat at the Ritz-Carlton that cost $52,000, the Blood Centers should be ready to explain.

But some of the biggest numbers at the Blood Centers involve the $2 million worth of deals that board members and their companies have done with the agency.

As Sentinel reporter Dan Tracy's story revealed last weekend, the law firm that employs the board chairman has been paid more than $1 million. The restaurant company that employs the board's senior vice president has sold more than $1.5 million worth of gift cards to the center. And the center has bought nearly $2 million worth of insurance polices from an agency founded by a trustee emeritus.

For this, the Blood Centers is unapologetic.

"We find it more than acceptable to do business with our Board Members," said spokeswoman Susan Forbes. "We do this on a fully disclosed basis."

Yet in the same e-mail, Forbes refused to even provide the names of those who currently sit on the board.

Some disclosure.

Still, even if Forbes spray-painted board members' names along Interstate 4, doing business with them wouldn't be proper.

And you don't need an ethicist to tell you why.

If a bunch of board members all need one another's approval to seal business deals, how likely do you think they are to scrutinize one another?

For that matter, how likely do you think any of them would be to deny a pay raise to the CEO who could single-handedly kill their deals?

The Blood Centers say the deals were all good for the agency, that board members recused themselves from voting when needed and that, overall, the center does a top-notch job fulfilling its mission.

But Central Florida seems large enough that the Blood Centers could attract board members who aren't doing business with the agency -- so that conflicts of interest aren't even an issue. And frankly, th e ends justifies the means is an awfully slippery slope.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I dedicate a good deal of time and space to promoting nonprofits in this community. They need our support and often deal with problems our so-called leaders will not.

The Blood Centers is no exception.

Give a pint. Save a life. We can continue to do our part.

But the Blood Centers better darn well do its part, too -- by spending money wisely. By keeping costs down, so that blood doesn't cost the sick and injured more than it should. By putting a quick end to big-money deals with board members who are supposed to be watchdogs.

And by treating concerned donors with the respect they deserve.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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