At least three Christian schools in Lancaster County announced they will not take part in this year’s ExtraGive fundraising event in November after the Lancaster County Community Foundation (LCCF) instituted a requirement for nondiscrimination policies among the participating nonprofit organizations.
Representatives from Dayspring Christian Academy in Mountville, Veritas Academy in Leola and Lititz Area Mennonite School made announcements in the last few weeks about the schools pulling out of the county’s largest one-day fundraising event, each citing the nondiscrimination policy as the impetus behind the move.
Sam Bressi, Community Foundation president and CEO, issued a public statement earlier this month regarding the nondiscrimination policy and questions from some Christian-based nonprofits over the direction of the Foundation, which oversees the ExtraGive. Bressi said the Foundation decided to move ahead with a nondiscrimination policy “because integrity is one of our organizational values.”
“As Lancaster County’s only community foundation stewarding our community’s endowment to benefit all residents, we believe we must hold ourselves and our nonprofit partners to best practices and do what we can to promote civility, compassion and human kindness within our community,” Bressi said in his statement.
In 2021, the more than 500 nonprofit groups participating in the ExtraGive were asked to voluntarily provide their organization’s nondiscrimination policies.
But the Foundation announced that this year’s fundraiser will require all groups to post their nondiscrimination policy on their organizational page on the ExtraGive’s website, including “providing donor transparency to legally-required nondiscrimination policies” in their hiring and promotion.
“ExtraGive believes strongly that our community donors deserve to have easily accessible information about the causes and organizations they choose to support,” the website states. “Nondiscrimination policies are one way donors can ensure they understand more fully about the organizations they are supporting.”
The Foundation set no requirements regarding specific language of a group’s nondiscrimination policy, only that it needs to be available to donors to review. It said the goal of the new policy is “connecting donors with useful, relevant information about the causes and organizations they support” and is like “having an independent audit or financial review” as a best practice for an organization.
“This document helps demonstrate the organization’s commitment to not allow discrimination based on any characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law or regulation,” the website states. “Donors will have the freedom to choose to view your document if they are interested.”
The nondiscrimination policy requirement is paired with the Community Foundation’s own anti-hate policy adoption, which it states was created to “protect donors from unknowingly supporting organizations that engage in activities that are harmful to our community.”
The Foundation’s anti-hate policy says the group will not accept funds from donors or make grants to nonprofits it believes “intend to support or engage in hateful activities, whether online or offline.”
If a public charity is engaged in “hateful activities,” the policy says grants will not be given to the organizations. The policy identified hateful activities as “activities that incite or engage in violence, dehumanization, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation, or misinformation targeting an individual or group based upon their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or disability.”
“These policies are intended to be respectful of religious freedom and ideological differences, while simultaneously aligning with the Foundation’s community-centered values,” the website states. “Very few organizations will be impacted by our anti-hate policy, as the overwhelming majority of Lancaster County nonprofits adhere to basic standards for respect, safety, and human kindness.”
“We recognize that social, racial, and economic injustices persist in our community and in the world and appreciate our unique role as servant leaders and bridge builders to address the root causes of these systemic issues.”
Last week, Veritas Academy was the latest school that previously participated in the ExtraGive to announce its decision to leave the fundraising event.
Ty Fischer, head of the school, sent a letter to the Veritas community, announcing the board’s decision not to participate after four years and raising more than $200,000 during last year’s 24-hour event.
Fischer said the coordination of the Community Foundation’s leadership team created an event that had “far-reaching impact and success,” but its decision to require the posting of nondiscrimination policies “caused us concern.” He said the organization sent out example policies indicating that “Christian views of sexuality and morality” would be interpreted by the Foundation as “hateful and wrong.”
Fischer said he was part of an effort over the summer to ask the Foundation to reconsider its direction on the nondiscrimination policy, but he said the Foundation leaders let Veritas know that “they were committed to this direction.”
“This left us with a decision – stay involved and hope that LCCF will not continue down the path of cancellation, rejection of freedom of conscience, and away from the values and virtues of Lancaster County or leave the ExtraGive and stand with other biblical ministries that are wary of this direction,” Fischer said in his letter. “We decided, with heavy hearts, to leave.”
Fischer said there is fear the school’s decision not to participate will “garner criticism” or that some in the community may try to “intentionally misrepresent what our school believes.” He said the Veritas community stand for “freedom of conscience” and believe that both religious and secular groups “should not be punished because of their beliefs,” harkening back to the founding of Pennsylvania by William Penn as a place where diverse opinions could flourish together.
“We believe that people – Christians, non-Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community – should not be manipulated toward changing their policies to receive the financial blessing of the ExtraGive,” Fischer said in his letter. “In this case, we believe that LCCF is failing to represent the values, virtues and best traditions of Lancaster County. Thus, we can’t in good conscience continue.”
Keith Garner, head of the Lititz Area Mennonite School (LAMS), issued his own letter to his school community earlier this month, saying they were grateful for financial support through the ExtraGive in past years. Garner said funds raised in 2021 were used to create an “outdoor education environment” at the school, and faculty members have been meeting with consultants to complete the project.
Garner said last year the school started seeing “subtle” changes with the Foundation that “began to raise a caution flag,” including the addition of a “diversity grant” for organizations demonstrating “diversity in their operations.” He said the nondiscrimination policy this year went even further, and school officials made the decision to move away from the event because of the Foundation “promoting a progressive social agenda.”
“As a school, we continue to hold firmly to our core values, of which the first two are Christ is our Center and the Bible is our Belief,” Garner said in his letter. “We know that these are two values that you, our faithful supporters, also hold as important. We continue to trust in the Lord that as we take a stand for truth, He will continue to provide for us.”
Dayspring Christian Academy made one of the first moves to distance itself from the ExtraGive when headmaster Daniel Stone wrote a letter in August, stating the school has participated in the event for the last nine years and that they were “grateful for the Foundation’s leadership” in organizing the event.
Stone said the generosity shown by individuals involved in giving during the event comes from “Lancaster County’s heritage of religious liberty and freedom of conscience,” and the generosity among its community routinely has Dayspring near the top of the leaderboard in the event. Dayspring has raised nearly $1.2 million during its participation in the ExtraGive.
But Stone said the recent policy changes with the ExtraGive have “raised deep concerns about the direction” of the Foundation.
“The Foundation is increasingly telegraphing that organizations that do not share its progressive social agenda will not be welcome to participate in the Extra Give in the years to come and will also raise the cost of participation for many that do,” Stone said in his letter.
Stone said Dayspring disagrees with the nondiscrimination policy and that the decision to leave the event came because its future participation is “limited” based on the social agenda in the policies.
“The Foundation is making it clear that advancement of sexual orientation and gender identity issues are now a priority, and as a result are placing a spotlight on organizations that cannot in good conscience advance that agenda,” Stone said in his letter. “To continue to yolk ourselves to an organization which is pushing such an anti-Biblical and harmful agenda is not something we can or will do.”
Community Foundation Response
In a message posted on the Foundation’s website and sent to supporters on Sept. 9, Bressi said this year’s ExtraGive on Nov. 18 includes “important changes” that require explanation.
Bressi said the posting of nondiscrimination policies is similar to its longstanding requirement of providing audited or reviewed financial statements of the participants.
Bressi said some community members have asked whether the ExtraGive’s nondiscrimination policy and the Foundation’s anti-hate policy are “signals that we are engaging in political activity.” He said both the Foundation and ExtraGive are “strictly apolitical and nonpartisan.”
He said the Foundation has also heard “concerns from some faith-based organizations that they are being excluded,” but he said the group has “deep respect” for the work of local faith-based organizations.
“We serve and believe in the inherent value of all people,” Bressi said in his statement. “We believe deeply in collaboration and harmony over divisiveness and partisanship, because we know from experience that Lancaster County is more extraordinary when we work together.”
The ExtraGive nondiscrimination policy comes after several years of criticism from activists complaining that organizations involved in the event were discriminating against the LGBTQ community. Activists encouraged donors to give directly to local nonprofits instead of through the ExtraGive.
Darci Ellenberger, owner of Lancaster-based Sweet Tooth Creative copywriting service, wrote an op-ed in LNP in November of last year, arguing nonprofits that were antithetical to the Foundation’s call for inclusion in the community should not have a right to a share of the ExtraGive’s “stretch dollars,” the matching funds provided by local businesses as incentives to participate in the event.
Jamie Beth Cohen, a Lancaster-based author, took the criticism even further, starting a social media campaign on Facebook and posting on Oct. 8 the names of 82 nonprofits participating in the ExtraGive who she said “create problems” other organizations involved in the event are trying to solve, including LGBTQ issues. Cohen specifically mentioned Dayspring, Veritas and LAMS in her post.
“If you care about LGBTQIA+ people, these orgs are not your friends and neither is the ExtraGive,” Cohen said in her Facebook post. “Big tent programs uphold the status quo. The status quo is harmful.”
Of the 82 nonprofits Cohen listed last year, only 20 are participating so far in this year’s ExtraGive, including Eastern Mennonite Missions, St. John Neumann Catholic School and Hope Within Ministries.
Michael Yoder is an award-winning journalist who has been honored with several Keystone Press Awards for his investigative pieces. He has been crafting stories for daily, weekly, and monthly publications for more than two decades in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. He has interviewed everyone from Academy Award-winners and Rock & Roll Hall of Famers to presidential hopefuls and members of Congress. Michael was born and raised in Lancaster County and joined The Lancaster Patriot in 2022.