In my time on the DBSA Albuquerque board, twice has our chapter declined large funding opportunities. It might seem counterintuitive for a self-funded volunteer organization to turn down any donation, much less sums of $35,000 and $50,000. These were in no way easy decisions for our board, and both instances and board decisions are predicated on a single inescapable principle:
DBSA Albuquerque is first and foremost a peer support group, and anything that potentially threatens the safety, confidentiality, and fidelity of the group must be discouraged.
This can mean any number of things. In the past, we’ve dismissed disruptive peer members who were so obnoxious and bullying they were driving off other peer members. This is a very clear and easily-understood concept and rationale.
But what about funding? How does money threaten the safety, confidentiality, and fidelity of peer support groups? The answer might be surprising, although it is equally clear and easily-understood.
It depends on where the money is coming from.
Let’s talk of the $35,000 our chapter declined and why. First off, the funding was being obtained from a “grant writer”, and the grant writer was taking a percentage of the amount collected. This is horribly unethical. Grant writers traditionally and ethically write their fee into the grant.
Secondly, we were not allowed to meet this grant writer, nor were we given information on what grant or grants were applied to in the name of our chapter. So, the source of the money was a mystery.
After some careful, discrete inquiries, it turned out this money was being spearheaded by a state politician who supported and helped draft legislation unpopular with peers, namely Assisted Outpatient Treatment, AOT, aka “Kendra’s Law.” Many peers hear “AOT” and reflexively say “Forced Treatment.”
Through board discussion, we agreed that accepting these funds was tantamount to stating DBSA Albuquerque supports AOT legislation, and by extension the peers attending DBSA Albuquerque support groups. As a board, we have no right to speak on behalf of peer attendees to our support group.
The DBSA Albuquerque board felt accepting this funding was the same as buying peer endorsement of legislation either unpopular with or harmful to peers.
A similar logic was applied to the $50,000 offered our chapter. While the intent is pure and the cause noble, this funding was made available through a court settlement in relation to why the Department of Justice is auditing and monitoring Albuquerque Police Department use of force treatment of peers in crisis. Again, accepting this money can be seen as peer endorsement, and more importantly . . .
Through negligence or circumstance, APD will be held over the coals for a use of force violation in relation to a peer in crisis, and this has great potential to raise the visibility of our chapter and by extension peer support groups in media and meetings.
In addition, numerous peers at our groups have had poor relations and experiences with law enforcement, and if these peers feel our chapter is in direct collaboration with law enforcement, they will not come to our support groups any longer. I can say this with 100% authority. A group of peers left DBSA Albuquerque and formed their own peer support group because of my personal involvement with APD training.
Peers come first. And the purpose of DBSA Albuquerque is to hold peer support groups where peers feel safe talking openly in an environment free of public scrutiny and attention.
I’m uncertain if prior DBSA Albuquerque administrations gave this magnitude of consideration to accepting donations and funding. I feel it is a necessary debate and is a respectful consideration of the peers who attend our support groups.
If peers don’t feel safe and welcome, they won’t attend. And that defeats the purpose of DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups.
Steve Bringe, Vice preisdent, DBSA Albuquerque