Charities, Stakeholders, and Guilt By Association

Are charities responsible for the beliefs of the groups they sponsor?

An upcoming event being held at the University of Toronto, and co-sponsored by the SickKids Foundation is raising a few eyebrows. And raising questions about how careful charitable organizations need to be in deciding what other organizations to partner with.

The event in question is this conference: “Changing the Course of Autism In Canada”.

Autism (or more formally, Autism Spectrum Disorder) has been in the news a lot lately; it’s an important health issue, and a good one to hold a conference on. Here’s a bit from the conference brochure:

The conference features two dozen of the most highly respected names in the autism community and provides the most up-to-date information to help children, adolescents and adults diagnosed with ASD. You will hear lectures related to clinical and basic science, epidemiology, educational therapies, advocating for autism, and much more.

Sounds like most conference brochures. The difference: this event is being co-organized by a controversial organization called Autism One — an organization that promotes the now-discredited notion that autism is caused by vaccines.

(I won’t get embroiled in the scientific evidence here. But the Science-Based Pharmacy blog, of which I am a big fan, discusses the issue under the provocative title, The University of Toronto Embraces Autism Quackery. You get the picture.)

This may prove embarrassing for the SickKids Foundation (which is the fundraising branch of Toronto’s world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children). On the face of it, it’s odd for a research-funding Foundation to provide funding to an organization that has a reputation, within the scientific community, of turning a blind eye to what that community believes to be well-established research results (i.e., that vaccines don’t cause autism). One indicator of the tone of the conference: one scheduled presentation is about using homeopathywater — to treat autism.

Of course, in all fairness, no funding agency can know everything about every group or event it sponsors. And the list of speakers at the conference does include people with relevant credentials and so on. But in terms of stakeholder relations, the SickKids foundation may nonetheless find that it is alienating some of its most crucial stakeholders — namely the vast majority of scientists and health professionals, along with well-informed parents.

(I’ve blogged before about Ethics for NGOs & Charities. I’ve also blogged about Guilt by Association.)
Late-breaking news: Science blogger Orac has posted this, about the SickKids Foundation’s response to the controversy: The SickKids Foundation supports woo

2 comments so far

  1. DarryleHuffman on

    I can see how this will damage the reputation of the hospital. They should have been careful in selecting the people whom they have speaking at the event. This can be tough because sometimes it may not be known until it is too late. Now they have to go and explian how this happened and weather the firestorm that surrounds it. I do conclude that they should have stuck with the people they know represent the research for Autism. They should have also asked the people who have reliable research about the group in question before they asked them to be apart of the gathering either as sponsor or a speaker.

  2. […] Charities, Stakeholders, and Guilt By Association (August 28, 2009) […]

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