Charities are victims of the #MeToo movement

The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation in New York is having trouble raising money for the first time in the wake of the sexual misconduct scandal of its founder, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation in New York is having trouble raising money for the first time in the wake of the sexual misconduct scandal of its founder, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The collateral damage is becoming clear, as philanthropic efforts that relied on accused celebrities have been derailed

NEW YORK • While powerful men have stumbled after reports of sexual misdeeds came out, the fallout has also hurt charity organisations.

Take the case of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation in New York, which has helped pay for art and dance classes for thousands of children. For the first time, it is having trouble raising money.

Its famous co-founder, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, has been accused by several women of rape.

The charity's officials said they may have to end operations in New York, where most of their work is focused.

"It is a shame that there are those who can't separate accusations against the co-founder from the good work that the organisation does and from the children who need us," said Mr Richard Slomovitz, the foundation's treasurer.

The Kevin Spacey Foundation mentored and trained young performers until several young actors accused the actor of sexual misconduct. At the end of February, it announced that it was shutting down after trustees deemed it "no longer viable".

The #MeToo movement has brought down many powerful men. Now the collateral damage is becoming clear, as philanthropic efforts that relied on these celebrities have been derailed or forced to retool.

Since October, when revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein unleashed accusations against other men, organisations have rapidly distanced and denounced their now-unsavoury benefactors, in an effort to keep the rest of their donors from fleeing.

Though the money might be sorely needed, "the downside to accepting the dollars is potentially alienating other donors", said Ms Melanie Ulle, a veteran philanthropy consultant.

In October, the University of Southern California's film school turned down a US$5-million (S$6.5-million) pledge from Weinstein to fund an endowment for female film-makers.

Two months later, the school removed director Bryan Singer's name from its Division of Cinema and Media Studies after he was accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy a decade ago.

According to a statement from the university, he requested his name to be taken off "until the allegations against him are resolved".

But it has not responded to questions about whether it would return the US$5 million that Singer, an alumnus who directed several X-Men movies, gave in 2013, when the division was named after him.

The #MeToo fallout has also deprived other organisations of star power. The Fistula Foundation, which pays for treatment of obstetric fistula, a child-birth injury that women suffer mostly in developing countries, has received support on multiple occasions from comedian Louis C.K.

Last year, he wore a shirt emblazoned with the charity's name on Saturday Night Live.

The group raised US$9.7 million in 2016 - triple the amount it collected in 2011, the year he first spoke about it.

Now, he is no longer a public advocate for the foundation, having admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct in the fall.

But the #MeToo movement has managed to draw on plenty of financial support.

Time's Up, the initiative backed by hundreds of Hollywood figures to fight sexual harassment and gender imbalance in the workplace, has raised US$21 million for its legal defence fund on a GoFundMe page.

"Certainly, in terms of dollars and cents, it has been a net gain," said Mr David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'Charities are victims of the #MeToo movement'. Print Edition | Subscribe