Growing harassment and threats directed toward leadership and staff have led watchdog database GuideStar to remove its flagging of 46 suspected hate groups as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — at least for the time being. The removals will take place this week.
A GuideStar spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the instances of harassment or whether GuideStar has sought out law enforcement, citing the sensitive nature of the situation.
The decision to flag the groups started at the beginning of the year when clients expressed concern regarding potentially facilitating donations to hate groups, the spokesperson said via an email. GuideStar leadership responded by exploring potential data sources to include in GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles and identified SPLC as a reputable source some institutions were already using to protect themselves from contributing to suspected hate groups. Annotations were put in place in February.
SPLC defines hate groups as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” In total, 46 of the 1,676,746 nonprofits tracked by GuideStar were flagged.
In the months since the flagging, GuideStar has fielded positive and negative feedback relating to the designations. Honest people can have honest disagreements over whether certain organizations should be on the list, the spokesperson added.
“We do believe, however, that we have an opportunity to improve both the way we designated hateful organizations and the context surrounding those designations,” the spokesperson said. “It is also our assessment that removing these flags — at least temporarily — will give us the opportunity to engage with the nonprofit community to better present information about organizations using the nonprofit form to advance hateful agendas.”
In a blog post on GuideStar’s website, Jacob Harold, president and CEO, noted that while some individuals do use nonprofit status to spread hateful rhetoric, the number of such instances are rare. The 46 organizations represent just 0.0027 percent of the organizations in GuideStar’s database. Harold recognized that the concept of “hate” is difficult to pin down and that the challenge increases when referring to a multi-person entity such as an organization. While finding SPLC’s analyses to be thorough, Harold revealed that he did not personally agree with every single designation made, adding that different interpretations should begin a greater conversation.
“My interactions with individuals at the 46 flagged organizations have been largely professional,” Harold wrote. “At times they have been sobering: I will not soon forget being shown the bullet holes from a past hate-driven shooting during my visit to the Family Research Council. No one — whatever their identity or their politics — deserves to be targeted that way.
“I deeply regret that we had to consider staff safety when deciding what to do in this case. That does not speak well for the state of civil discourse in our country right now. We must do better,” he wrote.
GuideStar’s future treatment of the information will be determined following the engagement of the larger nonprofit community. Constructive suggestions on how best to provide information about nonprofits with hateful agendas are being collected in GuideStar’s online community. In the meantime, users can request the list of 46 organizations by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org