Posts tagged ‘Code of Ethical Standards’

August 24, 2018

What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?

Recent incidents at Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Oxfam Great Britain, The Presidents Club Charitable Trust, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and elsewhere remind us that the nonprofit sector is not immune to wrongdoing and scandal.

If you’ve never worked for a charity reeling from scandal, there’s a good chance you will one day. Even if you don’t work directly for a scandalized charity, you could still be affected by a loss of public trust if a similar nonprofit finds itself under the spotlight for misdeeds.

For those reasons, it is essential that you learn the most important thing about how to survive a scandal.

Three broad types of scandals can affect a nonprofit organization negatively:

1. Self-inflicted scandals beyond your control. Here’s an example of a situation that was beyond the control of fundraising staff. Oxfam Great Britain was banned from operating in Haiti and the organization’s country director was forced to resign following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Four other employees were fired for “gross misconduct.” While the frontline fundraising staff was not at all involved in the scandal itself, they nevertheless had to deal with the aftermath.

2. Self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided. We saw this when the Ohio Attorney General’s Office accused the charity Cops for Kids of defrauding donors of $4.2 million. Of all the money it raised over a 10-year-period, the charity spent less than two percent on charitable programming. This scandal allegedly involved fundraising staff as well as senior staff engaging in fraudulent behavior. The solution to this type of scandal is simple: Do not misbehave. Obey the law and adhere to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Standards, the International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising, and/or your nation’s own fundraising code of ethics.

3. Guilt-by-similarity scandal. People in Scotland experienced this several years ago. A cancer charity was embroiled in a well-publicized scandal. As expected, that charity saw a sharp decline in contributions. However, there was also an unpleasant, broad side effect. Completely unaffiliated cancer charities in Scotland also experienced a deep drop in donations resulting from broad public mistrust of all cancer charities. It took the innocent charities nearly a year to recover even with a coordinated campaign to restore public confidence.

Other than avoiding problems in the first place, always a good idea, what can you and your organization do to ensure it can survive a crisis or scandal?

The answer is simple, though the execution is not: Build strong relationships with donors. It takes effort, financial resources, and time. However, it’s an investment well worth making.

Recently, a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch contacted me. Rob Oller sought my commentary about the scandal involving Urban Meyer, The Ohio State University football coach. You can read about the situation on your own since there’s no need for me to get into the details here. Suffice to say that the coach has received a three-game suspension, but not before Bob Evans Restaurants withdrew its corporate sponsorship of Ohio State football.

Oller asked me about how scandal affects charitable giving. I told him, “It depends on the institution and quality of the relationships with its donors over time. The stronger the relationships the more likely the institution is able to weather the controversy.”

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August 19, 2016

Could Your #Nonprofit be Forced to Return a Donor’s Gift?

Officials at Vanderbilt University got schooled. They learned, the hard way, that nonprofit organizations cannot unilaterally void the terms of a gift agreement without returning the donation.

This is a story that keeps on giving. It provides an important lesson for all nonprofit organizations about the requirement, ethical and legal, to honor donor intent.

The tale begins in 1933 when the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to the George Peabody College of Teachers to build a dormitory named “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

In 1979, Peabody was merged into Vanderbilt becoming the “Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.”

After years of discussion, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt decided in 2002 to drop the word “Confederate” and rename the building simply “Memorial Hall.” The University took this action without gaining the approval of the Daughters of the Confederacy or returning the gift.

After taking Vanderbilt to court, the Daughters of the Confederacy received a Tennessee Appeals Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the University to either keep the original name of the building or refund the donation … in inflation-adjusted dollars. That $50,000 gift from 1933 is now valued at $1.2 million.

As reported in Inside Higher Ed:

The appeals court unanimously rejected Vanderbilt’s argument that academic freedom gave it the right to change the name. Vanderbilt argued that the Supreme Court has given private colleges considerable latitude in their decisions. But the appeals court said that was irrelevant because the agreement to name the dormitory ‘Confederate Memorial Hall’ was between a donor and a charitable group — and the government never forced the gift to be accepted.”

In its ruling, the Appeals Court stated (emphasis is mine):

We fail to see how the adoption of a rule allowing universities to avoid their contractual and other voluntarily assumed legal obligations whenever, in the university’s opinion, those obligations have begun to impede their academic mission would advance principles of academic freedom. To the contrary, allowing Vanderbilt and other academic institutions to jettison their contractual and other legal obligations so casually would seriously impair their ability to raise money in the future by entering into gift agreements such as the ones at issue here.

It took quite some time but, with money raised from anonymous donors, Vanderbilt paid $1.2 million to the Daughters of the Confederacy and renamed the building this month in accordance with the Court’s judgment.

Unfortunately, this has not brought this story to a happy conclusion. Vanderbilt has damaged its reputation by revealing its willingness to “casually” disregard donor intent.

I stand firmly with the Appeals Court decision. How I feel, or anyone feels, about the old Confederacy or the word “Confederate” on the building is irrelevant in this case. Instead, there are two powerful governing issues involved here:

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March 15, 2016

Ignore This at Your Own Risk: Perception is Reality

Since it is a Presidential election year in the US, I thought I’d explore three recent news stories through the lens provided by or popularized by the late political super-strategist Lee Atwater:

Perception is reality.”

The three news items I want to address are:

  1. A possible scandal involving MSNBC and a congressional candidate.
  2. A drop in donations at the University of Missouri following campus protests.
  3. The termination of the Wounded Warrior Project leadership.

Together, these stories demonstrate the danger of ignoring and failing to manage public perceptions. Such a failure could cost your organization vital support.

MSNBC:

NBCUniversal, owner of the cable news and commentary network MSNBC, Holiding Up Leaning Tower of Pisa by BJ Carter via Flickrhas previously experienced scandal. NBC news anchor Brian Williams violated journalistic ethics, by falsifying parts of stories he covered, leading to his suspension. Following his suspension, NBCUniversal reassigned Williams to MSNBC in a greatly diminished role.

Now, Chris Matthews, host MSNBC’s Hardball, is at the center of what could become a new scandal.

As first reported on The Intercept blog, guests on Hardball have donated nearly $80,000 to the congressional campaign of Kathleen Matthews, Chris’ wife. This has raised questions about payola and full disclosure. According to the report about Chris and Kathleen Matthews:

Some of the guests made the donations after they were on the show — in some cases, long after. But in at least 11 of these cases, the Hardball guests appeared on the program after Kathleen Matthews announced her candidacy, and without any disclosure of the donations. And in at least three of those cases, the donations came within days of the MSNBC appearance.”

The investigative report raises the issue of payola. Were potential Hardball guests asked to contribute to Kathleen Matthews’ campaign as a quid pro quo for appearing on the program?

While we do not yet know whether there was any pay-to-play involved, The New York Post has already declared:

Chris Matthews at Center of NBC’s Latest News Scandal”

The Independent Journal Review headlined a story with:

There’s a Scandal Brewing at NBC News, and Chris Matthews Is Right in the Middle of It”

Again, we don’t know whether Chris Matthews has done anything wrong. However, for thousands of people, perhaps more, that might not really matter. They definitely have serious concerns. For its part, MSNBC has done nearly nothing to reassure the public about the network’s journalistic ethics. This has led to a MoveOn.org petition calling for the suspension of Chris Matthews, according to The Daily Caller:

A MoveOn.org petition demanding that MSNBC suspend Hardball host Chris Matthews has garnered just under 10,000 signatures, even as the network has refused to address what Huffington Post called a ‘clear conflict of interest.’”

It remains to be seen how this might affect donations to Kathleen Matthews’ political campaign or how it might affect voter attitudes. It also remains to be seen what impact this report might have on Chris Matthews’ future at MSNBC. However, one thing is certain, MSNBC’s near silence on the subject is raising the ire of thousands of people, if not more.

University of Missouri (Mizzou):

Simmering racial tension on the University of Missouri Columbia campus flared up in November during protests that captured national media attention. At one point, an associate professor yelled, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” The targeted reporter was simply doing his job.

In the aftermath of the protests, the University system President and the Columbia campus Chancellor both resigned. Several months later, Mizzou terminated the associate professor mentioned above.

Now, we know from a report from KTVO-TV that the campus unrest has cost Mizzou millions of dollars in donations:

A University of Missouri official says about $2 million in donations have been lost in fallout from the Columbia campus unrest last fall. Vice Chancellor for Advancement Tom Hiles said Thursday that several donors who had pledged money to the university have pulled back their pledges.”

In addition to the fundraising fallout, Mizzou expects a sharp decline in student enrollment. FoxNews.com has reported:

Safe spaces may become empty spaces at the University of Missouri, where officials acknowledged an expected sharp decline in enrollment next fall is due at least in part to protests that rocked the campus last fall. The school is braced for a 25 percent drop in new students this coming fall, forcing the institution to enact painful budget cuts, as well as hiring and salary freezes. ‘We do know that the events of last fall have had an effect on our application numbers; however, it’s difficult to provide a specific number as we do not have any hard data,’ University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi said in a statement to Foxnews.com.”

While Mizzou officials have attempted to address student, alumni, and public concerns, it’s clear that much more needs to be done to reverse the downward fundraising and admissions results. The situation on campus may or may not be better. However, the perception among many shows that public concern remains.

Wounded Warrior Project:

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December 18, 2015

Are Bonuses a Good Idea for #Fundraising Professionals?

Twenty-two percent of American workers surveyed say they expect a holiday bonus, according to a recent report from Bizrate.com. While the report did not breakout the results, I believe that holiday and performance bonuses are I Love Work by elycefeliz via Flickrfar more common in the for-profit sector than in the nonprofit arena. However, should that be the case?

More specifically, should fundraising professionals receive bonuses?

Bonuses for fundraising professionals are not illegal. They’re not even unethical, if the charity adheres to certain guidelines. While the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Standards prohibits fundraisers from accepting compensation based on a percentage of funds raised (Standard 21), fundraising professionals are “permitted to accept performance-based compensation, such as bonuses” (Standard 22). However, bonuses must be “in accord with prevailing practices within the members’ own organizations and [cannot be] based on a percentage of contributions.”

Here are some potential advantages of offering bonuses:

  • Attract fundraisers that are more talented.
  • Retain the most talented fundraising staff members.
  • Reduce the risk when hiring new fundraisers.
  • Inspire fundraisers to give their all toward achieving goals.

Some of the potential problems with offering bonuses include:

  • Donors might be concerned about how their gifts are being spent.
  • Organizations would be less able to predict labor costs.
  • Fundraisers might focus too much on the specific goals related to the bonus while letting other responsibilities slip.

Now, I need to hear from you.

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