Rejecting a $100,000 Gift Helps #Nonprofit Raise MORE Money

The idea of rejecting a major donation usually sends a chill up the spine of nonprofit executives. After all, nonprofit organizations are not in business to return donations. Instead, charities employ hardworking fundraising professionals to bring in contributions. For many nonprofits, donations are the lifeblood of the organization.

However, rejecting a gift can actually help a charity protect its mission. Recently, I reported on two organizations that rejected or returned major gifts:

“When Should You Refuse a Gift?” — tells the story of Lucy the Elephant rejecting a grant offer from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

“Update: Spelman College Returns Gift from Bill Cosby” — relates why a major gift from Cosby was returned

Not long ago, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington demonstrated that a nonprofit can protect its mission and raise more money by mindfully rejecting a donation. In the case of the Girl Scouts, the organization rejected a $100,000 gift and raised over $250,000 in the process!

Girl Scouts W WashingtonWhen the Girl Scouts received the $100,000 gift, the staff was understandably thrilled. The money equaled approximately one-third of the organization’s financial assistance program budget for the year. The Girl Scouts offer financial assistance so that any girl can join despite economic obstacles.

Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts quickly learned that the major gift came with a major stipulation: the organization could not use any of the funds to help transgender children.

Megan Ferland, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington told Seattle Metropolitan magazine:

Girl Scouts is for every girl. And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to.”

In other words, accepting the donor’s terms for the gift would have violated the organization’s mission. So, the Girl Scouts made the only decision they could; they returned the gift.

Then, the organization tried to turn a lemon into lemonade. The Girls Scouts launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to try to recoup the funds. In the campaign, the Girl Scouts explained the situation. However, the organization correctly protected the privacy of the donor by not revealing the donor’s name.

By graciously handling the return of the gift, the Girl Scouts might be able to maintain its relationship with the would-be donor. At some future point, it might even lead to another gift, this time without strings attached. At the very least, other donors will appreciate that the Girl Scouts treats all donors with respect.

Within 24 hours of the campaign launch, the Girl Scouts replaced the returned $100,000. Within two days, the Girl Scouts had raised $250,000 as a result of an outpouring of support for its principled stand.

Being ethical does not have to always involve a sacrifice.

As the Girl Scouts have shown, doing the right thing and remaining true to the organization’s mission can help raise even more public support and even more money.

For a related article that also happens to be my most read post of all time, checkout:

“Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?”

In addition, remember and live by these words from Mark Twain:

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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3 Responses to “Rejecting a $100,000 Gift Helps #Nonprofit Raise MORE Money”

  1. Was the gift made with the stipulation that the money not be spent on transgender scouts, or that it only be spent on scouts who were born as biological girls?

    I wonder, because if the Girl Scouts received a gift to help them transition transgender scouts into the program (e.g. the money could only be spent on transgender people) then I wonder if the money would have also been returned, seeing as how the mission of that Scout troop is to help ALL girls.

    In other words, does this Scout troop REALLY not accept restricted gifts where the restriction would prevent the money from being spent equally on all girls?

    • Emilia, thank you for your questions. Based on the media accounts I’ve read, the donor specified that the donated funds could not be used to assist transgender scouts. Given that the $100,000 donation equaled just one-third of the assistance budget, the Girl Scouts certainly had sufficient funds to assist transgender scouts while honoring the donor’s restriction. So, what was the real issue? I can see two problems with the restricted gift: 1) How would the Girl Scouts know whether they are assisting a transgender individual? 2) Should the Girl Scouts accept a gift that encourages exclusion rather than inclusion?

      The statements coming from the Girl Scouts seem to indicate that the issue of exclusion v. inclusion was a key factor in the organization’s decision.

      If the restriction had gone the other way, I’m not sure what the Girl Scouts would have done. You’ve presented an interesting hypothetical question.

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