An organization representing 28 Washington area charities is seeking to oust the United Black Fund from managing the District's charitable fundraising campaign for city employees, claiming that it is shutting out organizations it views as competition.
The United Black Fund has run the District's One Fund Campaign with the United Way of the National Capital Area for the past 30 years. The campaign raises about $1 million for charity from city employees.
But the Institute for Black Charities, an eight-year-old consortium of small nonprofit groups, claims that the United Black Fund has blocked its inclusion in the annual fund drive for six of the past seven years and is trying to do so again this year. The institute says the United Black Fund, which also raises money for 32 member charities, favors its members unfairly over other charities.
"It's just not a level playing field," said Charlene Taylor, executive director of the Institute for Black Charities, based in Silver Spring. "Why are we being treated differently?"
For its part, the United Black Fund claims that the Institute for Black Charities is not qualified to participate in the District's One Fund because it is affiliated with a charity that has agreed not to raise funds in the Washington area.
The dispute has resulted in a melange of lawsuits in D.C. Superior Court, with each side accusing the other of improper conduct. Each group also has sued the District, seeking to force it to halt the participation of the other organization. The District's request that the lawsuits be dismissed is pending.
Tarifah Coaxum, spokeswoman for the District's office of the attorney general, denied the institute's allegation that it is being prevented from participating in the fund drive. "They participated in the One Fund in 2003," Coaxum said. "And the organization has not established that it will not be able to be part of future One Fund campaigns."
The annual D.C. One Fund has been a fixture since 1955. The United Black Fund, one of the nation's first black charities, began administering the campaign with the United Way in the 1970s, and the two have run it since.
According to documents filed in the case, the Black Fund and United Way lend staff members to advise District employees on how to run the One Fund campaign. They help organize rallies and other events to boost the campaign and hold fairs for city workers featuring some of the 1,200 charities included in the campaign. They also print brochures and other literature for the campaign and keep a tally of the results.
The Institute for Black Charities contends that the United Black Fund has unfairly influenced the committee of city workers that decides which organizations can participate in the drive.
It said its applications were rejected or ignored from 1997 to 2002. It was admitted to the 2003 One Fund campaign after city officials overruled the One Fund's eligibility committee.
According to court filings, the committee had declared the institute ineligible because Taylor had worked for the subsidiary of a New Jersey charity -- National Black United Fund -- that had an agreement with the United Black Fund not to solicit funds in the Washington area.
"It is [the United Black Fund's] belief that the relationship is a breach of the protocol agreement that exists" between the United Black Fund and the National Black United Fund, according to a letter from the committee to the institute.
United Black Fund officials declined to comment on the lawsuit last week. But in their court filings, they presented copies of a 1984 agreement in which the United Black Fund agreed not to raise funds in California and the National Black United Fund agreed to stay out of the Washington area.
But Taylor said that she hasn't worked for the National Black United Fund since 2002 and that the United Black Fund is simply using that as a pretext to keep the institute out of the campaign.
The institute received $15,000 in last year's One Fund campaign, but Taylor said she believes the institute is being pushed out of the campaign this year. She said the committee told her organization last week that the institute would have to submit a separate application for each of its member charities by Sept. 15.
"There's no way we can get that done," Taylor said.
The dispute dismays Janice Ferebee, founder of the Got It Goin' On Foundation, a four-year-old education program for adolescent girls and a member of the institute. "The fact is, there is enough [money] out there for everyone in the game," she said.