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Must charity disclose who ordered pink flamingos for our lawn?

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Must charity disclose who ordered pink flamingos for our lawn?

A charity installed pink flamingos on our lawn, ordered by an anonymous donor. We have an unstable stalker-like person in our lives and we are concerned that she might have ordered them to show that she “knows where we live.” We feel in danger.  They also installed these flamingos on rods into our lawn without our consent. Our underground sprinkler system could have been damaged. The organization refuses to divulge the donor’s name, claiming protection under their 501(c)(3) status. Can we demand disclosure under the Freedom for Information Act?

You have no rights under a Freedom of Information Act because those acts apply only to governmental entities and not to an ordinary 501(c)(3) charity.  The charity is also correct that it has no obligation to disclose its donors to the public.  Like 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that dump a lot of “dark money” into political campaigns, charities are protected by law from having to disclose the names of their donors.  There is also a generally recognized ethical duty to protect the identity of donors who don’t want their donations to be disclosed.

This case is different, however, because they apparently acknowledged a donation by trespassing on your property, violating your space and at least minimally damaging your property.  A threat to bad-mouth the organization may convince them that the law does not prohibit them from disclosing a donor’ identity and that the general ethical duty of confidentiality may not apply to a donor who may be using the gift to torment a third party.

If that suggestion doesn’t cause the charity to divulge the name, a suit for damages (which might be hard to prove) or for an injunction to prevent it from happening again (which the charity might be able to moot by agreeing not to do it again) might give you the opportunity to learn the identity of your tormenter through discovery.  You will have to decide whether it would be worth the time and money to litigate to try to learn who did it, particularly considering what you would do with the information if you got it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023


Return the flamingos to the charity that placed them on your law without your permission. Perhaps put them on their lawn.

An uncomfortable situation with lots of angles. A letter to the nonprofit exec titled "Notice of Claim" and asking for name of the nonprofit's liability insurance carrier and policy limits should get some attention and threatening suit for trespass against the John Doe and the nonprofit.

Trespass does not require damage to land to be actionable, and many states have a small tort statute that provides for attorney fees even if only minimal damages are awarded.

Once this gets to the nonprofit's attorney, this should be resolved quickly, and the nonprofit should be educated that confidentiality for donors only applies to donors -- I query whether this is whole thing qualifies as a deductible contribution situation, since it was the purchase of services (covering someone's lawn with plastic birds without their consent). It's an odd business, but there are party planning companies who will do that kind of stuff for a fee --- so in this case, the nonprofit actually did provide services for the money. So there's no donor confidentiality here anyway.

The nonprofit is being incredibly thoughtless and tone deaf here. They should be able to figure out who the board members of the nonprofit are and write to the president, cc: the ED, and explain the situation and say that, even if the donors were promised confidentiality, it's a promise that ultimately they can't keep if it goes to court and they will have to give up the "donors" name. But, if their concern is actually just knowing whether Sally Stalker is the one who ordered the birds, nonprofit should agree to respond with a "yes or no," regarding possible Sally Stalker ( was this the sponsor of the flamingos").

A thought about the flamingos-- isn't a public charity prohibited from making "gifts" earmarked by a donor for a single recipient?

Also, shouldn't they need the recipient's prior permission to accept any gift? (normally due to tax issues, liability, etc, but in this case, property/trespassing as well?

Finally, how is installing pink flamingos in someone's yard fulfilling any legitimate charitable purpose?? Is the charity's mission providing landscaping decor such as flamingos and garden gnomes? To unwitting victims?

This sounds like a prank, not a charitable endeavor.

It seems to me that the nonprofit could have come up with a creative resolution to this request. Maybe the Executive Director could have spoken to the complaining party and asked for the first name of the person at issue? It might have been a quick easy way to allay any fears/concerns without betraying donor confidentiality. 

This can be a sticky issue on both sides, but as a non-profit director I would never allow anyone to make a donation that results in our organization taking action that occurs on someone else's property. Last year we had a request to put an American flag on someone's front porch. This would sound like an OK idea, and they had a good story. We knew neither the donor nor the person on who's property the American Flag would appear, so we declined.

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