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What to know about Four Diamonds, THON's beneficiary

Plus: 2022 drug deaths in Blair County set record, tracking Gov. Shapiro's campaign promises, and the school funding decision

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February 16, 2023
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Inside this edition: What the public can (and can’t) know about Four Diamonds, tracking Gov. Shapiro’s biggest campaign promises, and drug deaths in 2022 in Blair County set a record.

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Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
Steven M. Falk / Philadelphia Inquirer

Real quick: Penn State’s Four Diamonds has spent $239.4 million since fiscal year 2009. Spotlight PA’s Wyatt Massey reports what we know about how the money was used.

A little more: For years, thousands of Penn State students have participated in a grueling philanthropic ritual: 46 hours of standing, dancing, and cheering to fundraise for children with cancer and their families. 

The dance marathon, which takes place this weekend, and has received support from celebrities such as Khloé Kardashian, is the culmination of a yearlong effort by the student organization THON to solicit donations from across Pennsylvania and the United States.

The money students raise goes to Four Diamonds, a charity nested inside the Penn State system.

And while THON promotes the benefits for children and their families, Four Diamonds uses the majority of the money to fund research and related endowments.

Four Diamonds received criticism in the past for a lack of financial transparency, and began disclosing additional information in response. However, other parts of how the organization operates remain difficult to understand. 

Four Diamonds funds Penn State endowments, but shares few details publicly about how it is managed. Gil Pak, operations director for Penn State Health Children’s Hospital Department of Pediatrics, told Spotlight PA the endowments are valued at $110 million.

In 2020, as part of its efforts to address allegations of “discriminatory practices,” THON pledged to release demographic information about who the charity helps. That effort has so far not materialized.

Because Four Diamonds is organized under the school, it does not file a 990 tax form. That means it does not have to disclose the salaries of top employees, total assets, liabilities, governance, and other information that would typically help the public understand how money is being used.

Penn State is already less transparent than other public universities due to a special exemption given to it by Pennsylvania’s open records law.

Todd Ely, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver who studies nonprofit financial management, told Spotlight PA that housing a charity within a public institution like a university can complicate the typical options for public transparency.

“That puts a bit of the responsibility on the organization itself to step up and make sure that they’re providing enough information that donors do have a clear picture of both how much money is being raised but also how those funds are being used,” he said. 

Ahead of THON dancers standing all weekend, Spotlight PA sought to clarify the relationship between Four Diamonds and the university. The day before a scheduled interview with Spotlight PA, Four Diamonds and THON leaders canceled due to “changing schedules” and requested that questions be sent in writing. (You can read their full responses here.)

Spotlight PA analyzed Four Diamonds’ spending over the past 14 fiscal years, spoke with experts who study charitable finances, and sought information from Four Diamonds and THON about how they operate.

The full story: Read more here. 

“Our elected officials are supposed to be public servants, but when we see them spending time in luxury settings with rich campaign donors, it destroys trust between voters and what is supposed to be a government of, by, and for the people.”

—Michael Pollack, executive director of the good-government group March on Harrisburg, told Spotlight PA.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
» Top gaming regulators in Pa. met with industry lobbyists before coming out against a casino competitor

» Shapiro sat courtside at a Sixers game with a donor. His campaign called it a ‘political meeting.’

» Shapiro, Pa. lawmakers may face multibillion-dollar budget question after major school funding ruling

» Why election problems continue to plague this northeast Pa. county

» 5 ways Pa.’s marijuana laws could change in 2023

» Tracking Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s biggest campaign promises

» Court won’t force Pa. to release voter info for 2020 election inquiry. That doesn’t mean it’s over.

» WATCH: ‘How Harrisburg Works’ explains Pennsylvania special elections

» A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it’s remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Beaver Lake in Lycoming County at sunset — courtesy of Sarah Rafacz, who edits Talk of the Town.

Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
» CDT: Post-COVID learning loss still impacting Centre County schools
» WPSU: Pa. food banks brace for increase in demand
» Mirror: Blair drug deaths set record in 2022

» Daily News: Union Township proposes annexation solution to Mapleton
» CDT: Ferguson Township to discuss impacts, response to oil spill
» Mirror: Altoona’s oldest Black Baptist church celebrating 150 years
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Feb. 16: Activities for elementary and middle school students abound at the Science Festival at Penn College.

» Feb. 16: Schlow Centre Region Library hosts an author talk with Grace M. Cho, who wrote Tastes Like War.

» Feb. 17: Support ClearWater Conservancy at its Art & Chocolate Celebration.

» Feb. 17: Photographer and explorer Amos Nachoum presents “Picture of My Life” lecture at University of Pittsburgh’s Bradford campus.

» Feb. 18: Bucknell’s Weis Center for the Performing Arts presents Ephrat Asherie Dance’s Odeon, which “delves into what happens when you bring together parts of the extended family of street and club dances ... and remix them and challenge them to inhabit unfamiliar spatial and choreographic contexts.”

» Feb. 18: Industry leaders participate in the Night of Empowerment panel at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport.

» Feb. 21: Susan Graham, “America’s favorite mezzo,” and Music from Copland House perform A Standing Witness, a collaboration between composer Richard Danielpour and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove — presented by the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
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