Archive for ‘Ethics’

November 18, 2015

It’s Shameful to Shame a Major Donor

Would you publicly shame a generous philanthropist who just contributed $100 million?

Dylan Matthews, a writer at the blog site Vox, has done just that in his recent post: “David Geffen’s $100 Million Gift to UCLA is Philanthropy at Its Absolute Worst.”

David Geffen

David Geffen

The post came after David Geffen, the billionaire entertainment mogul and philanthropist, announced that he is donating $100 million to the University of California, Los Angeles, to build a private school aimed, in part, at serving the families of UCLA’s faculty and staff, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

Geffen and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block described the new school, in part, as a recruiting and retention tool for faculty and scientists who may be worried about the cost of living in Los Angeles and the quality of the Los Angeles education system, the Times reports.

The gift to create the Geffen Academy was not the philanthropist’s first donation to UCLA. He has already contributed $300 million to what is now UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Through his gifts to UCLA, Geffen told the Times, he wants to help the medical school “to be competitive with Harvard and Johns Hopkins and the very best in the world.”

While many might think Geffen’s generosity is noble, Matthews clearly feels otherwise:

Music mogul David Geffen is very, very bad at being a philanthropist. His past donations have mostly taken the form of massive gifts to prominent universities and cultural institutions, rather than to poor people or important research or even less famous, more financially desperate universities and arts centers.”

In short, the Vox blogger says that Geffen is a “ very, very bad” philanthropist because he does not give to causes that Matthews believes he should support. This is a perfect illustration of holier-than-thou liberalism (not to be confused with liberalism).

Matthews calls Geffen’s philanthropy a “grotesque waste.” He adds, “This gift is actually worse than no charity.” He disparages Geffen’s desire to have UCLA compete successfully with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He even insults the students who will be attending the Geffen Academy by dismissing them as “faculty brats.”

Interestingly, I discovered one reason why Matthews might really be opposed to the Geffen gift. Geffen wants UCLA to be able to compete more effectively with Harvard. Well, guess what? Matthews is a Harvard alumnus, something he neglected to point out in his blog post. That conflict of interest aside, I also noticed that most of the charities that Matthews thinks would be worthier of Geffen’s support work in the developing world. Could it be that Matthews believes in white paternalism and/or keeping people of color dependent on white, Western charity? Is Matthews of the belief that there are no needy children in the US or is it that he’s simply anti-American?

So, Mr. Matthews, how do you like having your motives judged and your character impugned? Normally, I wouldn’t have done so, but I decided to take a moment to adopt your writing voice. I also thought it might be interesting for someone to hold a mirror up to you.

I won’t go into why the Geffen donations are beneficial. Suffice to say they will do a great deal of good from creating good paying jobs to enhancing medical education and research. It might not be what you or I would support. It’s certainly not what Matthews would support. But, the fact is, it’s not our money. It’s Geffen’s wallet, and he can empty it however he wishes, or not at all. If Matthews wants $100 million to go to the various causes he listed, let him go out and earn it so he can give away his own money where he sees fit.

November 11, 2015

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.

October 16, 2015

When Should You Refuse a Gift?

From opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, I learned of two stories that both raise an important question:

When should a charity refuse to accept a donation?

The first story concerns Lucy the Elephant,  an historic six-story tourist attraction in the US. Built in 1881, the wood and tin structure is in need of major repairs. The nonprofit organization that operates Lucy the Elephant is raising money for the project.

Lucy the Elephant by Doug Kerr via FlickrHearing about the repair effort, the nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered to make a significant, though not huge, donation. However, the gift would come with major strings attached.

PETA wanted to use the attraction for anti-circus messaging. “PETA wanted to decorate Lucy ‘in a way that would educate visitors about the grim lives facing elephants in circuses.’ That would have included shackling one of her feet and affixing a teardrop below one eye,” according to the Associated Press.

However, the board of trustees for Lucy the Elephant rejected the PETA offer. Richard Helfant, the CEO of Lucy’s board of trustees, said that accepting PETA’s terms would risk scaring or upsetting children who visit the site. “Lucy is a happy place,” he said. “We must always ensure that children who visit Lucy have a happy experience and leave with smiles on their faces. Anything that could sadden a child is not acceptable here at Lucy.”

In other words, the board of Lucy the Elephant found that the conditions of the PETA gift offer were not in alignment with the organization’s own mission and, therefore, it could not accept the donation.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a children’s charity in the UK was offered a gift from the Jimmy Savile Trust. Under normal circumstances, this would be considered great news. Jimmy Savile  was a huge celebrity in the UK. He worked as a DJ, radio and television personality, dance hall manager, and a major charity fundraiser. He was sort of the Dick Clark of the UK.

Unfortunately, Savile also had a very dark side. Following his death in 2011, hundreds of people came forward to accuse the media star of sexual abuse. His alleged victims were eight to 47 years old at the time of the abuse. A Scotland Yard investigation and an ITV documentary looked into the allegations and the alleged cover up of the crimes.

In 2014, UK Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt delivered a public apology in the House of Commons:

Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people, who expected and had a right to expect to be safe. His actions span five decades — from the 1960s to 2010. … As a nation at that time, we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes. Today’s reports show that in reality he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes.”

So, why would a charity, particularly a children’s charity, even consider accepting a gift from the Jimmy Savile Trust?

Raising the issue in the Institute of Fundraising Discussion Group on LinkedIn, the Fundraising Manager for the charity and participants provided some insights:

August 17, 2015

Urgent Alert: Immediate Action Needed to Defend Nonprofits

There is an alarming issue you need to be aware of.

While I do not use this blogsite to engage in partisan politics, that does not mean that I avoid politics and government relations altogether. I consider myself a bi-partisan, vigorous defender of the nonprofit sector.

CA State House by David Grant via Flickr

California State House

Over the years, I’ve worked with both Democrats and Republicans in my capacity as Chairman of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Political Action Committee, Chairman of the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter Government Relations Committee, and a member of the AFP US Government Relations Committee. I’ve even represented AFP in testimony before the Federal Trade Commission.

As a passionate defender to the nonprofit sector and a cheerleader for voluntary philanthropy, I took notice of a recent post on The Agitator blog. Fundraising legend Roger Craver sounded an alert and issued a call to action over a dangerous move by the California Attorney General.

Never before have I reprinted a blog post. However, this issue is so important that, with Roger’s permission, I am sharing his post with you now:


If you’re willing to turn over the list of your top donors to the government then you need read no further.

However, if you’re not sure, or you’re absolutely certain you’d be unwilling to give up the donor list, then take this post to your CEO and General Counsel. Immediately.

Why? Because right now the Attorney General of California is set on requiring that any nonprofit seeking a license to solicit funds in the nation’s largest state first turn over their lists of top donors that are filed with the IRS on a supposedly “confidential” schedule of your tax return.

This dangerous and unconstitutional power grab in the name of ‘fundraising regulation’ and ‘consumer protection’ must be stopped.

And it’s up to all of us—nonprofits and the companies that serve them to stand up now and take action.

Whether or not your organization or one you serve solicits funds in California the battle ahead will affect the freedom of speech and privacy rights of every nonprofit in the U.S. and their donors.

In a moment I’ll outline the steps you can take immediately to head off this threat. But first some background.

A year ago this week The Agitator warned about a sinister move by the Oklahoma Attorney General and his special interest contributors to silence the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) using that state’s fundraising regulations.

HSUS has boldly and, so far, successfully fought back.

As I pointed out last August there have been relatively few occasions in modern history where politicians have blatantly sought to use the power of their office to silence nonprofits that opposed them or whose views and ideology they disagreed with.

At the end of the day, Americans and the U.S. Supreme Court have shown little tolerance for political zealots and bullies who abuse U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and due process.

NOW …The Intimidators At It Again. And We Must Make Sure They Lose. Again.

July 29, 2015

Update: Spelman College Returns Gift from Bill Cosby

Seven months ago, I first reported that Spelman College announced the suspension of an endowed professorship in humanities that was funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. At that time, I called on the College to either renegotiate the gift or return it to the Cosby family.

Post No Bills by Jon Mannion via FlickrOn July 26, 2015, the College revealed its decision to terminate The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship and to return the donation to the Clara Elizabeth Jackson Carter Foundation, established by Camille Cosby.

Last December, Spelman issued this one-paragraph statement:

December 14, 2014 — The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life; however, the current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”

Amid mounting accusations of sexual assault involving Bill Cosby, the College decided to terminate the endowed professorship. As of this publication date, Cosby has not been charged with any related crime.

As I stated in my December post, nonprofit organizations are ethically required to use a donor’s contribution in the way in which the donor intended. The applicable portions of the Donor Bill of Rights “declares that all donors have these rights”:

IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given….

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition….

VI. To be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.”

The relevant passages from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Principles state:

14. Members shall take care to ensure that contributions are used in accordance with donors’ intentions….

16. Members shall obtain explicit consent by donors before altering the conditions of financial transactions.”

By returning the gift after deciding not to use it for the intended purpose, the College acted ethically. However, a number of other ethical questions remain unanswered:

May 29, 2015

Avoid the Pitfalls to Raise More Money

Yesterday, I made my first public speaking appearance since my successful battle with cancer began just over a year ago. I served as the plenary presenter at the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York Planned Giving Day Conference. My topic:

Ripped from the Headlines: Learning from the Planned Giving Mistakes of Others”

It was a particularly moving day for me. You see, I was scheduled to speak at PPGGNY’s conference last year. Unfortunately, because of my health, I had to cancel. It marked the first time I ever canceled a professional appearance.

Meryl Cosentino, the Vice President of PPGGNY and Senior Director of Planned Giving at Stony Brook University, was very understanding and kind. She stayed in contact with me during my recovery and, when she learned of my return to professional life, she invited me to speak at this year’s Planned Giving Day. I thank Meryl and her colleagues for the invitation to present.

So, PPGGNY Planned Giving Day marked my first speaking cancelation and, now, my return to the speaking circuit! I’ve come full circle!

To help me celebrate the happy occasion, The Stelter Company generously sponsored 20 copies of my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, so we could give them away to random winners during my presentation. I thank Stelter for its thoughtful support. I also thank Stelter for contributing valuable material to my book. The company’s commitment to the nonprofit sector is remarkable, though not the least bit surprising.

Michael Rosen at PPGGNY Planned Giving Day Conference.

Michael Rosen at PPGGNY Planned Giving Day.

During my talk, I shared several stories about well-known nonprofit organizations that have stumbled. I also shared plenty of useful tips, and a story that provided the overarching theme to my presentation. The story contains an important lesson for all nonprofit professionals:

Several months before my surgery, I visited southern Utah with a good friend. We went hiking in Escalante National Monument, a spectacular wilderness. On the more treacherous trails, I was particularly cautious. I carefully placed my feet with each step. I looked at where I was going to step next so I could pick the best spot. Because I exercised great caution, I didn’t stumble once.

Coming off one challenging trail, I found myself on a wonderfully flat, gravel path. I gave a sigh of relief. I was pleased to be able to spend more time looking at the lovely scenery rather than the trail and my feet. However, as soon as I had that thought, I stepped into a small gully, a tiny wash. And I went falling straight over. After grabbing my camera to make sure it was undamaged, I checked myself. With the exception of a skinned knee and bruised ego, I was fine.

From that experience, I learned a profound lesson.

May 5, 2015

Will You Help Me Celebrate My (Re)birthday?

On May 2, I began my month-long (re)birthday celebration. One year ago, I underwent a 14-hour surgery to remove the rare cancer that had spread throughout my abdomen. The surgery was a success, and I am now in remission!

First Birthday Balloons by akadruid via FlickrPrior to surgery, I was told my life expectancy would be about two to five years. Following surgery, my doctor told me I can expect a full life. That’s why I consider May 2 my (re)birthday.

Having gone through what I have during the past year, I’m returning to professional life with a reinvigorated commitment to help the nonprofit community be more efficient and effective so we can make the world a better place.

I’m doing a number of private and public things this month to celebrate. While I normally ensure that my blog site remains largely non-commercial, I’m making an exception with this post because I want to enlist your help as I mark this important time in my life.

There are a number of ways you can join my (re)birthday celebration:

New Clients. I’m looking for at least three new clients. If you’ve found my blog posts helpful, imagine what we can achieve by working closely together, as some readers have already discovered. If you work for a nonprofit organization, I can help you with annual fund enhancements, donor retention efforts, ethics education and policy development, phone fundraising improvements, planned gift marketing, and training for staff and/or boards. If you work for a for-profit company serving the nonprofit sector, I can help you with service/product enhancements, new service/product development, and marketing.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss how I can help you achieve your goals.

Paid Speaking Engagements. As part of my return to professional life, I’m looking forward to getting back out on the speaking circuit. I’m an experienced, well-reviewed presenter and AFP Master Trainer. I’m also an adjunct faculty member at Drexel University where I teach Advanced Fund Development to graduate students. For your organization, I can facilitate a variety of training programs for your board, staff, or volunteers. For your professional associations, I can offer a variety of seminars or keynote presentations to meet the group’s needs and particular interests.

January 2, 2015

Don’t Make New Year Resolutions You Can’t Keep

It happens every year at this time. People make New Year resolutions. Then, a short time later, they break those resolutions.

Breaking New Year resolutions is bad. Doing so can make you feel guilty. It can erode your self-esteem. If you told anyone about your resolutions, your failure to keep them could even be embarrassing.

Here’s a novel idea for 2015: Don’t make New Year resolutions you can’t keep.


Happy New Year from Philadelphia!

Instead of setting overly challenging goals, I encourage you to adopt the three following, easy-to-keep resolutions. While easy to adhere to, the following resolutions are nevertheless meaningful. You’ll notice that my three resolutions include something that will benefit you, something that will benefit others, and something that will benefit your organization:


  1. Indulge yourself. Yes, you need to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising, and getting an annual medical physical. However, you also need to let yourself be bad occasionally. You need to take care of your psyche. If that means having a slice of chocolate cake, then go for it! If it means watching old television episodes of Gilligan’s Island, so be it. If it means having your spouse watch the kids so you can enjoy a leisurely bubble bath, make it happen. By being good to yourself, you’ll be better able to be good to other people.


  1. Make sure those you love know you love and appreciate them. Don’t assume that those you love know it or know the extent to which you care about them. Tell them. Show them. Don’t just run for the door in the morning to rush off to work; instead, take the time to kiss your spouse good-bye. Don’t just nod when your child comes home with a good test score; instead, take the time to tell him how impressed you are. Make your partner a steaming cup of tea before she asks for it or goes to make it herself. In other words, make the most of the little moments.


  1. Grow professionally. One of the hallmarks of being a professional is ongoing education and sharing knowledge. So, commit to attending seminars and conferences. If time or money are obstacles, participate in a webinar; there are some excellent free webinar programs available throughout the year. Or, read a nonprofit management or fundraising book. There are some terrific books at The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon) that will inspire and help you achieve greater results. You’ll find Reader Recommended titles, the complete AFP-Wiley Development Series, and other worthwhile items. If you have found a particular book helpful, consider sharing a copy with a friend, colleague, or your favorite charity. By the way, a portion of the sale of books through The Nonprofit Bookstore will be donated to charity.


(If there’s a nonprofit management or fundraising book that you read recently that you found particularly helpful, please let me know below so I can include the title in the Readers Recommended section.)

For additional reading, you might also consider looking at some of my posts that you might have missed. Here is a list of my top ten most read posts during the past year:

  1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  2. Delivering (My Own) Bad News
  3. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  4. One Word is Costing Your Fundraising Effort a Fortune
  5. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified
  6. How NOT to Run a Capital Campaign
  7. Cheating Death
  8. #GivingTuesday Has NOT Made a “Huge Difference”
  9. 5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising
  10. 20 Factoids about Planned Giving. Some May Surprise You.

I invite you to read any posts that might interest you by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

I’m honored to know that I have readers from around the world. (I love the Internet!) While I appreciate all of my readers, I thought it would be interesting to look, beyond the United States, to see my top ten countries for readership:

December 19, 2014

Is Spelman College Unethical?

Spelman College has announced that it is suspending an endowed professorship in humanities that was funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. Spelman issued this one-paragraph statement:

December 14, 2014 — The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life; however, the current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”

The Cosby family donated $20 million to Spelman in 1988. In 1996, Spelman opened the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby EdD Academic Center. At that time, “an endowed professorship named for Drs. Cosby was also established to support visiting scholars in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences as well as Spelman College’s Museum of Fine Art,” according to a November 25 written statement by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman’s president.

The November statement also explained:

The academic center and endowed professorship were funded through a philanthropic commitment from the Cosby family made more than 25 years ago, and at this time there are no discussions regarding changes to the terms of the gift.”

Just 19 days later, Spelman reversed its position and suspended the professorship. When contacted, several Spelman officials refused to comment. A representative for Cosby also declined to comment.

Bill Cosby by via Flickr

Bill Cosby

For the past several weeks, Bill Cosby has been the target of a large number of sexual assault allegations. However, no criminal charges have been filed against Cosby. Spelman knew this in November. It’s unclear why the College abruptly suspended the endowed professorship now. While additional allegations have been made in the intervening weeks, Cosby still has not been charged with a crime.

To paraphrase Tyler Perry, if Cosby did commit the sexual assaults, it’s a terrible situation. If Cosby did not commit the sexual assaults, it’s a terrible situation. I won’t comment on the Cosby situation beyond that. However, I do want to explore the Spelman news because it has broader implications for all nonprofit institutions.

Nonprofit organizations are ethically required to use a donor’s contribution in the way in which the donor intended. The applicable portions of the Donor Bill of Rights “declares that all donors have these rights”:

IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given….

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition….

VI. To be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.”

The relevant passages from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Principles state:

December 12, 2014

Is the American Red Cross Hurting Your Fundraising Efforts?

The American Red Cross regularly touts how responsible it is with donors’ money. ‘We’re very proud of the fact that 91 cents of every dollar that’s donated goes to our services,’ Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern said in a speech in Baltimore last year. ‘That’s world class, obviously.’

“McGovern has often repeated that figure, which has also appeared on the charity’s website.

“The problem with that number: It isn’t true.”

That stunning revelation was made in a recently released investigative report by ProPublica and NPR.

National Red Cross HQ by NCinDC via Flickr

American Red Cross National Headquarters

The Red Cross is a great organization. My wife and I have been donors. I even did a blog post highlighting the effective stewardship practices at the Red Cross and encouraging readers to support the organization. The American Red Cross does not have to “serially mislead” the public.

Yet, that’s exactly what it has been doing according to the reporters. While the organization has told the public that 91 cents of every donated dollar goes to services, its fundraising cost to raise a dollar has been 17 cents on average. And that does not include organization overhead expenses. Clearly, the Red Cross has not been as efficient as its leader has claimed.

When reporters contacted Red Cross officials for more information, those officials were uncooperative. However, the organization did change the claim on its “website to another formulation it frequently uses: that 91 cents of every dollar the charity ‘spends’ goes to humanitarian services. But that too is misleading to donors,” states the investigative report.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the Red Cross has been accused by the media of misleading the public.

As a Red Cross supporter and a fundraising professional, I’m alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of the Red Cross. Misleading the public, either through lies or the clever manipulation of language, is unnecessary, unethical, and unacceptable.

Such inappropriate behavior erodes public trust, which makes fundraising more difficult. Perhaps this is one reason that the Red Cross has had trouble consistently raising more money. In 2009-10, the Red Cross raised $1.1 billion. In 2012-13, the Red Cross again raised $1.1 billion.

In a study that examined the relationship between trust and philanthropy, researchers Adrian Sargeant and Stephen Lee found, “there would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate.” In addition, “there is some indication here that a relationship does exist between trust and amount donated, comparatively little increases in the former having a marked impact on the latter.”


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