I’ll support BLM, but not with money

It pains me to write this post. I have been nagged by the thought of writing this for years. I was hesitant to move forward because my criticism is directed toward a black female led organization. It’s quite a thing to stand on the other side and look up and see what could be your own reflection. I was moved to write this after watching a thoughtful video on the subject of financial transparency within BLM (specifically, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation). I decided to compile my research and get it out, once and for all.

For the past couple of years, BLMGNF has used a fiscal sponsor, Thousands Currents (formerly IDEX) to manage its finances. This is typical of new non-profits that have yet to receive 501(c)3 status, without which they are unable to receive contributions directly. Thousands Currents reports the sponsored organization’s financials with theirs. This was the only way to discern how BLMGNF has used monies received so far and the details are beyond disheartening.

The earliest statement available from FY17 on the left and the latest, FY19 on the right.

The expenses related to BLMGNF are listed under ‘fiscal project’. For FY17, BLMGNF spent $674k on salaries, $333k on fees for service (i.e, consulting fees), $369k on travel and meals. To put that into meaningful context, these costs represent 55% of expenses in comparison to the 6.9% disbursed in grants for the same year. In contrast, their sponsor, Thousand Currents, had 30% of their costs go toward grants and less than half goes toward salaries, consultant fees and travel/meals. FY19 isn’t much better with 76% of costs being represented by salaries, consulting fees and travel/meals and only about 5% issued in grants.

What Does this Mean?

Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation isn’t putting the money where their mouth is. It means that the mounting complaints about financial transparency are valid and worthy of investigation. It means that a couple of things need to happen in order for BLMGNF to regain legitimacy:

  1. Black Lives Matter Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit and it needs to behave like one. Thousands Currents stepped down as fiscal sponsor last summer and the Foundation partnered with a new one, the Tides Foundation, which means they won’t be filing their own 990 (the non profit version of a 1040). The magnitude of Tides’ operations means that BLMGNF’s financials will be enveloped within the larger organization making scrutiny close to impossible. An organization of this stature should function as a stand alone non-profit, file its own forms (as required by state and federal laws), and make those documents available on their website.
  2. Hire non profit professionals and identify them on the website. Blacklivesmatter.com lists no staff names or e-mail. Legitimacy requires transparency. Is everyone working there family and friends? We don’t know. What are the roles within the organization and how do we reach them? We don’t know. There’s only two direct contact e-mails: for press and partnerships. There should be a clear idea of who does what. A community organization should make themselves available to the community for something other than donations and interviews.
  3. Assemble a board of directors who are experienced in the goals of the organization, are independent stakeholders and have control and oversight over the organization. It appears that Patrisse Khan Cullors, BLMGNF’s executive director, is the sole decision maker for matters pertaining to BLMGNF’s funding and direction. If something happens to her, what happens to the organization? The idea of decentralized leadership is one thing, but the practice isn’t being applied to their finances.

In the meantime, individuals should stop donating to the Foundation and instead send their contributions to local charities and organizations with proven track records. If you insist on giving to BLMGNF, specify the way in which your donation is to be used. General giving allows them to use the money for any number of purposes, but once you apply a purpose they are bound to use the money for that reason. If you cannot do this, don’t give.

Despite the claim on the website (blacklivesmatter.com), BLMGNF is not the one leading the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s just the one getting paid for it.