Awhile back, Guest Agitator Jerry Huntsinger took the Salvation Army to task for having a billion dollar plus “reserve” fund. While not suggesting any wrongdoing, he basically appealed for greater transparency in non-profit financial reporting, and he did wonder how to reconcile asking individuals for coins and dollar bills in the red kettle while such huge funds were sitting in the bank.

Now along comes the New York Times writing — fairly, in my opinion — about the apprehensions at the Salvation Army as it uses a $1.5 billion gift from Joan Kroc, believed to be the largest gift ever directly to a charity, to build “glittering” community centers around the country. With 30-40 centers planned, the Kroc endowment will only cover about half the operating costs, requiring the Salvation Army to raise $70 million per year to keep them running. The worries appear to center on whether providing community amenities like water aerobics and ice skating will suggest to the public that the Salvation Army either doesn’t need small donor support or that it has strayed from its mission of serving the needy.

I hope both worries prove misplaced. As I read about the facilities described in the Times, what goes on in them, and how they affect people’s lives, my reaction is to give three cheers! Yes, they seem to offer amenities to lower income neigborhoods that are usually reserved for the affluent (how tragic that is!), but they also provide parenting classes, after school and drug rehab programs, food for the needy, referrals for social services, as well as serving as hubs for supporting disaster relief efforts.

If these centers raise the profile of the charitable work of the Salvation Army, and underscore to the public that charities do as much as they in fact do to substitute for cheap government and meet the needs of underserved and neglected families, then I’m all for them … and I think the Salvation Army should be proud of them.

I’m all for transparency and fidelity to mission in non-profits. But, at the same time, I don’t want to knock success, or begrudge the Salvation Army’s good fortune in attracting the generosity of the late Joan Kroc.

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