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Just For Nonprofits: Saying No To Donations
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Just For Nonprofits: Saying No To Donations - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Saying No To Donations

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Saying No To Donations

It's a sad fact that issues related to funding are the all-day, all-night concerns of just about every nonprofit agency. Yet charitable giving is a fickle, ever-shifting landscape fraught with peril and as difficult to predict, so the idea of saying no to donations seems crazy. Still, most organizations find themselves in the unenviable position of refusing gifts even when they need them most.

We've discussed the importance of an organization's mission, and how the mission is the message that describes and defines its direction. With this in mind, some donations are easy to make decisions on, although it's never really easy to turn down monetary contributions. Whatever the size of the gift, if it is offered by a person or group whose work unapologetically opposes yours, you may face backlash from clients, volunteers, and other donors if you do not politely decline the donation. It's true that few things are ever truly black-and-white, as with groups whose donations are an effort to repair collateral damage that was never anticipated, but you conscience is probably pretty clear about most of these issues and can be a reliable guide.

Less cut-and-dried are donations that hint at conflicts of interest. A national nonprofit whose goal is to educate and support families touched by a certain behavioral disorder includes in its annual report on expenditures a statement on its ethical support acceptance policy, disclosing that a considerable percentage of its gifts comes from pharmaceutical companies who manufacture drugs prescribed for treatment of that same disorder. This is clearly a sticky situation, but while some would immediately call this a conflict of interest, others might see a way for cautious acceptance (with full disclosure, of course), as long as the organization can maintain its credibility in disseminating information or advice. In this case, the group is satisfied that these gifts fall within the lines of its ethical acceptance policy, a policy set by its board.

Among the most difficult donations to refuse are those from sincere givers whose gifts are substantial but attached to too many strings. As a gesture of thanks and tribute, the employer of one family who lost children in an accident offered a large scholarship donation to their children's high school. At first, the scholarship was presented each year by the employer and family during its annual awards ceremony, but one year the family asked if the presentation could be preceded by a five-minute memorial slideshow. The school was now in the difficult position of choosing between the scholarship and maintaining control over its own ceremony. Because it was already having difficulty keeping the length of the ceremony within reasonable boundaries, and because the family refused to budge on its request, the school, with great sadness, politely declined. Most of the school's administrators didn't think five minutes was unreasonable, but the precedent it would set, allowing donors to set the agenda of a school event, was one it couldn't afford.

Other recipients discover they must decline gifts because of the extra work they create for their already overworked staff, and this is a tributary of the same governing concept: you have work to do, and you seek partners in accomplishing the work your organization's mission dictates. The mission determines the course; the donors join you or they don't, but they do not set the course. If their kind, generous donations alter that course, either intentionally or not, your group is better off helping the donor find a more accommodating group. This way, the giver's contribution still finds a recipient while you pave the way for more like-minded givers to step up.


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Just For Nonprofits: Saying No To Donations - Executive Leadership Articles

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