by Heather Stombaugh, MBA, GPC | Grant Consultant
For years, Neo Nazis have gathered in the small German town of Wunsiedel, Germany because Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, was once buried there. Residents have complained and filed legal action with no result. To the great disgust and dismay of the people of Wunsiedel, Neo Nazis continue to visit the town for an annual pilgrimage.
This year, the people of Wunsiedel chose to “sponsor” their visitors during the latest march, without the marchers’ knowledge or permission. Unwittingly, the Neo Nazi group raised 10,000 Euros for Exit Deutschland, a nonprofit that helps people escape from extremist groups. The event has been referred to as “Germany’s most involuntary walkathon.” The march even looked like a traditional walkathon, with “encouraging” signs posted along the route, like a banner reading “Mein Mampf (My Munch)” next to a table of bananas for the participants.
Such trickery against a group like the Neo Nazis might bring a smile to your face. But should we ever associate the word “trickery” with our nonprofit missions? Authenticity is critical to every interaction we have from the people we serve to the donors who support us. But beyond that, fundraisers follow ethical codes, both their own and those prescribed by national membership organizations.
Respecting donor intent is a legal matter as well as an ethical issue. While the townspeople (the donors in this case) clearly understood the event and the intent of their gifts, the Neo Nazis in Wunsiedel did not intend to raise funds for Exit Deutschland. Will the Neo Nazis pursue some course of legal action after this stunt? Perhaps I’ll read that follow-up story on my Flipboard soon.
That said, please don’t mistake my feelings. When I first read the story, I felt righteous joy and gave a silent cheer. Way to show those Neo Nazis! (Full disclosure: I learned a couple of years ago through The Genographic Project that my matriarchal line is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.) But quickly I felt conflicted. Was this right? Why do I feel nauseous about what happened to Neo Nazis? The crux of my nausea, I discovered, is that one word: involuntary, a violation of Kant’s maxim, “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” Why didn’t Exit Deutschland raise money through a simultaneous, highly publicized walk with full transparency and clear intent from participants? That scenario is ethical, authentic, and voluntary. And it doesn’t lend itself to controversy for someone to write about in a nonprofit blog.
But then again, would this event have made headlines otherwise? Keine chance.