Charitable foundations are supposed to be repositories of positive PR. They allow you to do some good while generating positive stories connected with your name or brand. But, after this year’s presidential election cycle, the “charitable foundation” just won’t have the same ring to it. Both major party candidates are facing questions related to their foundations.
Clinton is being accused of “pay for play,” of granting favors for foundation donations while she was Secretary of State. Now, there’s been no confirmation of these allegations…though some folks take them on faith. Likewise, Donald Trump is in hot water for allegations that he used foundation donations to pay his legal fees for various lawsuits.
Another, more recent, allegation dogging Trump: that companies owing him money actually donated to his foundation instead, thus saving Trump the tax burden attached to that income.
According to these “reports,” Trump’s foundation has received upwards of $2.3 million from various companies who actually owed Trump money. That’s more than $2 million he doesn’t have to pay taxes on … if these allegations are accurate. To this point, all we have is the word of people “familiar with the accounts.”
Of course, for enemies of both Trump and Clinton, “reports” from “sources” are plenty enough to create narratives to drive negative PR. But, for Trump, the allegations have a lot more mystery attached to them. Clinton disclosed donors, but, because Trump has refused to release his tax returns, it’s easy for opponents to argue he’s hiding illegal activity. A fair allegation? Who knows? And that’s the point. Trump supporters will shake their fist and call a party foul. Clinton supporters will point fingers and say, “see, look how corrupt he is!” In fact, that’s exactly what each “side” is doing.
This creates a non-profit PR powder keg for the actual organizations trying to do some good. Every time the Clinton Foundation is mentioned, no one talks about the good the organization is doing. They just talk about the allegations. Ditto, the Trump Foundation.
There’s a strong PR lesson here for any business allied with a charitable foundation. Any whiff of negative publicity from you or the foundation can cross between the brands, creating PR problems both for the business and the nonprofit organization.
David Firester specializes in intelligence analysis and is founder of TRAC Intelligence.