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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Innovia makes the right changes to preserve public trust

The Spokesman-Review

The Innovia Foundation has served this community well for decades and largely done an excellent job reflecting its values. That’s why the revelation this month that the foundation had been a conduit to give money to a white nationalist group shocked the community so deeply. One mistake that has been quickly corrected, however, shouldn’t undermine the public’s trust. A study by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Council on American and Islamic Relations revealed Innovia had made a $5,000 donation to a group called VDARE over the opposition of its outgoing CEO. In all, the foundation made several grants totaling less than $40,000 to the group.

VDARE calls itself a “nonprofit journalistic enterprise,” but its focus is on preserving what it calls America’s “rightful identity.” SPLC has labeled it a hate group.

“America is not a melting pot, or a tossed salad or any other fashionable dietary metaphor that strips our nation of its rightful identity,” according to VDARE’s website. “We founded a country unique to history that has its own philosophies, values, social structure, attitudes, festivals, foods and aesthetic.”

The group is named after Virginia Dare – the first white child born in America. VDARE’s founder rejects the white nationalist label but has railed against the rise of Spanish speakers in the United States and once said that “Hispanics do specialize in rape, particularly of children.” Such reprehensible ideas, surely, are not what Innovia wants to support.

The grants were made through a donor-advised fund administered by the foundation, separate from the discretionary funds that Innovia directly coordinates. The donor has not been identified. Even after a conversation with the donor outlining the foundation’s concerns, he continued to express his support for VDARE’s mission.

Former CEO Mark Hurtubise refused to sign off on one of the grants after researching the group. “It’s a community foundation, with the operative word being ‘community,’ ” Hurtubise said. “A community, in this region, is made up of all its citizens.” VDARE, he said, doesn’t “concur with that value.”

The foundation board of directors overruled him. About a week after controversy over the donation erupted, Innovia issued a statement saying it planned to adopt a new anti-hate policy in April. “Hate flies in the face of everything we represent and seek to do as a community foundation,” the statement said.

The statement rightly noted that these grants undermined the work of the foundation over the past several years to remake itself and redefine its mission. The foundation reaffirmed its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The adoption of an anti-hate policy will give it the legal justification it needs to enable it to reject such requests for donor-advised funds in the future, the foundation said, allowing it to evaluate recipient organizations based on their charitable purposes, not just whether they are recognized by the IRS as a charity.

Donor-advised funds are strange beasts. Individuals deposit money in the funds, surrendering ownership in exchange for tax breaks, but retain some say in how the money is distributed. That say, however, is not absolute. Hurtubise still believes the foundation could have, and should have, rejected this request.

“If the donor doesn’t relinquish control, it’s not a gift and you can’t make a tax deduction. If a donor keeps control, it’s not a deduction. It’s not a charitable gift,” Hurtubise said.

It’s important, though, to put this controversy into proper perspective. Innovia (formerly the Inland Northwest Community Foundation) has distributed $80 million to area charities, nonprofits and universities over the course of nearly 50 years of operation. That includes sponsorship of the Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club, we should note.

This unfortunate stumble pales in comparison to the good the foundation has accomplished across 20 counties, the leadership they’ve demonstrated and the good they’ll do in the future.

The mistake should not be downplayed, of course. Innovia allowed itself to be used to fund a hate group. Its lax attitude toward donor-advised funds – an attitude unfortunately shared by many similar funders – opened it to this risk.

But the changes the foundation is making in response should help ensure that, moving forward, all of its donations truly reflect the value of the community it has served so well and for so long.

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