As fundraisers, we spend our days asking for gifts, we encourage philanthropy in all its forms, our hearts and minds are lifted with the joy of giving and receiving (can you hear the angels singing in the background?). And, sometimes, just sometimes, we have to say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
If you’ve yet to experience the agony of deciding whether to accept a potentially controversial gift or not, get ready. It will happen to you someday!
-A donor offers to make a six-figure donation, but they want to place restrictions on it that may be difficult or even undesirable for your agency to fulfill. Maybe they want to name something for themselves, or have the funds used for a program that really isn’t part of your mission, or designate the money to support only a particular client population.
-A corporate donor agrees to sponsor one of your programs as long as the kids in the program wear t-shirts with the corporate logo on it…and the corporation is a liquor manufacturer. Or a fast food company. Or Playboy. You get my drift.
-A board member wants to give you their ranch. It’s a lovely ranch. Is there fracking going on? Copper mining? Water disputes? I don’t know, but it’s an awfully nice ranch.
-A donor in the midst of a public scandal (think Rupert Murdoch) offers to make a large gift to your organization so long as you promise to publicize the gift quickly and broadly.
As you sit here reading this blog, it may seem easy to make quick judgments about which gifts you’d take and which gifts you wouldn’t. The situation is much different in real life because: a) it isn’t just you making the decision and b) funny things happen when there’s real money on the table.
The tools for dealing with gift acceptance decisions are grounded in ethics, foresight and discipline. They come together in a gift acceptance policy that should be in place and approved by the board before you find yourself in a tight spot.
A gift acceptance policy should include the types of gifts your organization will or won’t accept (cash, securities, real estate, etc.), the types of gift restrictions your organization will or won’t consider, and how your organization administers gifts. It should also include when and how you’ll engage legal counsel in relation to gifts, and guidelines for how decisions will be made.
Not only does a gift acceptance policy protect your organization, it protects your relationship with your donors. It’s much easier to say “no” to a gift if a policy for rejecting it is in place before the gift is even offered.
Because you don’t have a crystal ball, it’s true that a gift policy won’t always tell you exactly which gifts to accept and which to reject. But it can present the standards by which gifts should be evaluated and provide some flexibility for unforeseen circumstances.
Here are a few gift policy samples for you to peruse from the National Council of Nonprofits, although I cannot suggest that reading gift policies is actually fun. Engaging board members in the process of creating or revising your organization’s gift acceptance policy is an excellent opportunity to engage them in the topic of philanthropy and organizational ethics. That part is fun.
And don’t forget your strategic plan. It’s much easier to know what you need and want money for if you know where you’re headed!