Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Effect of Alleged Impropriety On Greg Mortenson’s Charities

By Gary Snyder

Students at Wolcott Street School had every intention of giving the $1600 to "Pennies for Peace," a fundraising campaign that collects money to help fund schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But after the program came under scrutiny this spring for how it was using money raised for the campaign, Le Roy (NY) elementary teachers and other school officials decided not to contribute the students' money to the campaign. Instead the money was given to the Backpack program, a local community service effort that provides backpacks stuffed with snacks and food for children to have during the weekend.

Pennies for Peace" is a charity program founded by Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling memoir "Three Cups of Tea." The book describes how Mortenson wants to build schools to promote peace through education. The campaign, run by the Bozeman, Mont.-based Central Asia Institute, raises money to be used to buy notebooks, pencils and other school supplies that are not readily available in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The money also funds scholarships, teacher salaries and schools.

Mortenson's story and charity work is now being questioned, and the National Education Association, an organization of school employees that had honored Mortenson in 2009, is recommending schools withhold sending money until ongoing investigations are completed.

Mortenson's accusers charge that he lied about how he became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that he used money donated to his charity for personal reasons such as chartered jets, equipment and advertising for Mortenson's books; and that he has not built nearly the number of schools he claimed and has left others abandoned without support or teachers.

In April, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock opened an investigation into the Central Asia Institute to determine if the Mortenson benefited from money intended for building schools. The investigation follows reports by "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer that cast doubts on Mortenson's story of being lost in 1993 while mountain climbing in rural Pakistan and stumbling upon the village of Korphe, where he was helped by residents.

Mortenson has denied any wrongdoing in postings to the CAI website. He said the memoir is largely true, while acknowledging that some events in his book were compressed over different periods of time, and denies any financial impropriety.

Nonprofit Imperative gathers its information principally from public documents...some of which are directly quoted. Virtually all cited are in some phase of criminal proceedings; some have not been charged, however. Cites in various media: Featured in print, broadcast, and online media outlets, including: Vermont Public Radio, Miami Herald, National Public Radio, Huffington Post, The Sun News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wall Street Journal (Profile, News and Photos), FOX2, ABC Spotlight on the News, WWJ Radio, Ethics World, Aspen Philanthropy Newsletter, Harvard Business Review, Current Affairs, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, St. Petersburg Times, B, USA Today Topics, ,, Responsive Philanthropy Magazine, New York Times...and many more • Nonprofits: On the Brink (iUniverse, 2006)
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