A peer advocacy project I’m taking on this year is more of a community awareness conversation than an actual advocacy project. What I want to share is a deconstruction of non-profit corporations (501c3) and how the idea of a non-profit is misconstrued as all donations (or most) go to charitable community projects. This just isn’t the case and it’s a misconception nurtured by several non-profits to mask a branding and income-generating machine.
Many of you know I was president of DBSA Albuquerque for seven years. We did a lot of really great things for our community – as volunteers – for which DBSA National gained respect and noteriety in New Mexico. The accolades rightly belong to our peers and our community and not an organization in Chicago that never finacially supported our local projects in any way.
Financials get people’s attention. Let me give you some quick rough numbers on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance that our former treasurer researched last year. There are about 700 DBSA chapters (the majority are 100% staffed by unpaid volunteers) and each chapter pays a $120 affiliation fee yearly to use the DBSA brand.
This adds up to $84,000 from annual affiliation fees.
Now, here are the numbers our treasurer found in his research:
- The DBSA organization is worth $89 million.
- The DBSA head-honco is paid $9 million a year.
- This head-honcho has access to annual travel funds in the tens of thousands of dollars.
$84,000 versus $89 million.
Not once in my seven years as president did DBSA National fund any local projects. We requested an inter-organizational grant each year to simply cover the cost of support group venue rental costs.
Most people in Albuquerque, if asked what DBSA is, have the impression the ENTIRE ORGANIZATION is a volunteer peer group providing peer support groups for free.
This misconception is one main reason we brought our peer support groups to the local community, adding the groups along side our existing Stand Up To Stigma education programs. All of what we do remains free to the community. We receive funding in more transparent and honest ways. And we’re open with our plan to pay peers for giving presentations, facilitating support groups, and taking part in community advisement. Our time has value and not simply “doing good is its own reward.”
This is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” and our research includes many more behavioral health non-profits. This is an ongoing community awareness conversation we’ll be detailing this year.
A final note for this prologue. For my entire tenure as DBSA Albuquerque president, each year I invited a representative from DBSA National to visit us, to put a face on our affiliated parent organization in Chicago. From what I gathered from peers who have been attendees at DBSA Albuquerque since as long ago as the 1990s, no one can recall meeting anyone from DBSA National.
Each year, DBSA National was thrilled receiving our invitation. I was quoted the speaker fee plus expenses.
This is an ongoing community awareness conversation.
A colleague who reviewed this article asked/warned me, “Aren’t you afraid DBSA National will sue you to get you to shut up?”
Absolutely I’m afraid. I don’t have the backing of $89 million for attorney fees. And, I’ve already been threatened by DBSA National in a way that violates the First and Thirteenth Amendments.
So, yes, I’m very concerned. If it cones to civil litigation, hopefully folks will understand it’s merely a large organization bullying a peer advvocate striving for peers to be valued and justly compensated for their value.