Advancing Philanthropy October 2020 - 9

Ethics
issue." You can't blindly accept money, and then when the
headlines hit the papers, portray yourself as this innocent
organization that has been blindsided.

You've mentioned going to your president and the
board of directors about having a gift acceptance
policy. Who should be responsible for making that
final call on a gift? I assume it's the president, but
what kind of process do you have if you're especially
concerned about something? What goes through
your head?
In the last five years, I've gone to the board and my boss
twice about specific donations, and each of those times,
my boss and the board said, "Joyce, what do you say? We
will accept your recommendation."
My process-as well as other fundraisers-is to make
sure we are upholding the Donor Bill of Rights, the Code
of Ethics and the standard principles of operating as
professional fundraisers. We should also pay attention to
the IRS code. We must acknowledge all these things. Your
CEO and board depend on your familiarity and knowledge
of these important guidelines in helping to make these
types of decisions, especially when there are nuances that
bring into question the legality or ethics of accepting a gift.
In one of the cases mentioned above our attorney said,
"Your name is on the document. Are you willing to accept
this gift and are you ready to defend it in court?"
So, the same questions remain: Does the gift align
with the organization's values? Does this meet the ethical
fundraising standards we've set for ourselves? Will the
acceptance of this gift harm our patients? Will this harm
our missions?

We focus so much on how the gift aligns with the
mission, but what is our ethical responsibility to
the people we serve? Is it important to know how
donors view our constituents?
It's getting harder to make these decisions. Before,
you could say, "No, we're not going to accept that gift."
It sounded great, and you could feel good for the time
being. You might even get another donor to step up and
replace the money you turned away. Those were the good
old days when life and fundraising were a lot simpler.
With cancel culture and the different ways people are
making money, what would have been questionable years
ago may or may not be questionable today.
There's a lot of rich, proactive conversation that we
should have and that's necessary. We cannot afford to be
reactive on such issues. Pay attention to what happens in
society. Identify incidents that occur in our communities
October 2020 / www.afpglobal.org	

or on a national or international level, and use those
examples as an opportunity to sit down and say, "What if
this happens to us? What would we do? How would we
handle this?"

Can you give me an example of how things are
different now? Is there something that comes to mind?
I recall many years ago, there was a very dedicated board
member, and he was just fantastic. Before he retired,
he served as a long-time executive for Liggett & Myers
Tobacco Co. in Durham, North Carolina. In the '80s and
'90s, the company underwent severe public scrutiny. By
the time I met him, he was shell-shocked due to the abuse
aimed at tobacco executives (whether right or wrong). He
always seemed paranoid and defensive about everything.
He and his wife would, by habit and unprovoked, preempt
conversations to justify the wealth they acquired because
of his years of service as an executive in the lucrative and
now maligned industry. While that was a while ago, there
will always be industries where you're going to have some
push and pull regarding ethics and their responsibility
toward and impact on society.
To the question of your acceptance of gifts from any
corporation or company, it really depends on your mission.
If you're an environmental organization, are you going
to accept a donation from Exxon? It's a good idea to have
your gift acceptance policies regularly vetted as issues
change. Sometimes we don't know things about a particular
industry, and we accept the money from them, but once we
find out about the harm it can cause our constituents or the
community, we can make a different decision.
So, I think defining tainted money and tainted
donors can be a fluid situation depending on what the
environment and our society are willing to accept at the
time we're asking the question.

What comes to mind when you think of gift
acceptance policies? How should organizational gift
policies be structured?
I think each organization's acceptance policy should have
a statement around gifts that pertain to their mission. We
all borrow language around the acceptance policy-few
organizations are creating theirs from scratch. However,
the part of your policy that should be unique and specific
to your organization is your value statement around gift
acceptance and what that means as it relates to accepting
a gift or turning it down.
Michael Nilsen is the vice president of marketing,
communications and public policy at AFP. He can be
reached at michael.nilsen@afpglobal.org.
Advancing Philanthropy	

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Advancing Philanthropy October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Advancing Philanthropy October 2020

Advancing Philanthropy October 2020 - Cover1
Advancing Philanthropy October 2020 - Cover2
Advancing Philanthropy October 2020 - 1
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