Posts tagged ‘ethics’

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:

June 30, 2016

It’s Time for You to Speak Up!

A jury recently convicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) of federal racketeering, bribery, and conspiracy, a total of 22 criminal charges. Days later, Fattah resigned his Congressional seat. The court will sentence him in October. He is likely to appeal.

The saga of yet another corrupt, unethical politician might not normally attract much attention from the nonprofit sector. However, this particular story should. And you should be outraged.

Among other things, prosecutors argued that Fattah used charities he created to funnel funds for his personal benefit:

  • Funds were stolen from a Fattah-founded charity to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan.
  • Fattah created a fake charity that received federal funds that were then misappropriated.
  • Fattah-founded charities were used to launder stolen funds.
  • Fattah-controlled groups received federal grants, but tried to cover up what happened to that money when officials conducted financial audits.

Furthermore, a Daily News investigative report stated:

…nonprofits founded or supported by the Philadelphia congressman have paid out at least $5.8 million to his associates, including political operatives, ex-staffers and their relatives.”

Despite Fattah’s abuse of the public trust, his Democratic Party colleagues have been tepid in their reactions:

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) — “It’s a shame to have something like this happen.”

Hear No Evil... by MASK Productions via FlickrPhiladelphia Mayor Jim Kenney — “The jury spoke, and the criminal justice system went forward.”

Ed Rendell (former Philadelphia District Attorney, former Philadelphia Mayor, former Pennsylvania Governor, and former Chair of the DNC) — “We’re not all bad. We’re not all evil.”

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — “Heartbreaking.”

While the responses from the political sector have been weak, the nonprofit sector has been infuriatingly silent. Where is the Association of Fundraising Professionals? Where is the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations? Where is Charity Navigator? Where is The Chronicle of Philanthropy?

I was very frustrated by the deafening silence from the nonprofit community. Instead of a yawn or a shrug, we should be condemning Fattah’s abuse of the public trust and his misuse of nonprofit organizations because his misdeeds negatively impact the credibility of all nonprofit organizations. We should be demanding that the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General investigate Fattah and his charities. If appropriate, Fattah should be charged with violations of the state’s laws governing charities and the charities should be held to account.

Then, I realized something. I have a platform. Therefore:

March 22, 2016

There’s Something Important You Need to Do Before You Can Raise More Money

Do you want to acquire more new donors?

Do you want to retain more existing donors?

Do you want to upgrade the support from more of your donors?

Do you want to get more planned gift commitments?

To achieve any of those goals, there’s something essential you must first do. You need to build trust. Trust is the cornerstone of all fundraising success.

Consider what noted philanthropy researchers Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Dr. Jen Shang have written on the subject:

There would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate…. There is [also] 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.”

In other words, the research demonstrates that the level of trust one has in a charity affects both willingness to give and the amount of giving.

TrustIf you’re like most fundraising professionals, you instinctively understand the importance of establishing trust. However, what are you actually doing to build and maintain it?

Sadly, many nonprofit professionals think that trust is automatic. If your organization has existed for a reasonable period of time and if it has had some demonstrable success at fulfilling its mission, fundraisers may be lulled into the belief that trust already exists. Therefore, organizations spend little effort building trust and, instead, focus their energies and resources on making funding appeals. Unfortunately, the result is usually underperformance and occasionally disaster.

As I mentioned in a recent post, a cancer charity in Scotland was involved in a major scandal several years ago. Unfortunately, the fallout from that scandal negatively affected many unrelated charities throughout Scotland as public trust in the charity sector suffered greatly. As a result, some charities reported a 30 percent downturn in contributions in the months following the controversy. To restore the public trust, Scotland’s charities and the Institute of Fundraising joined forces to get people meaningful information and provide them with assurance about the trustworthiness of the charity sector. It took several months to rebuild trust. As trust was restored, giving began to return to normal.

By investing in efforts to establish and grow trust, nonprofit organizations will yield far greater fundraising results and protect themselves from an unforeseen public relations challenge.

So, recognizing that building and growing trust is essential for success, and fragile once established, what can charities do to develop trust?

Fortunately, building trust does not have to be complicated or expensive. Sales guru Tom Hopkins identifies three simple steps:

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:

February 12, 2016

Do You Really Know Your Donors? — Part 2

In a cautionary tale earlier this week — Part 1 of a two-part series — I looked at the missteps one nonprofit organization took by not taking the time to get to know one of its loyal donors. In Part 2, I now examine a horrible fundraising appeal from an organization that actually knows its potential donor quite well, though it failed to leverage that knowledge.

Stethoscope and Piggy Bank via 401(K) 2012 via FlickrI originally got the idea for this post from one of my readers who contacted me with a link to an interesting New York Times article: “A New Effort Has Doctors Turn Patients Into Donors.” My reader wanted to know what I thought of the emerging trend of having doctors actively contact their patients for fundraising purposes.

I delayed writing about this subject because I have mixed feelings about it. Then, in December, I received a year-end appeal from my surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cancer Center. The letter helped crystallize my thinking.

First, let me share a bit of background. A recent study by Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a radiation oncologist and ethicist at the University of Michigan, was published recently in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. It was the first major examination of the role of physicians in fundraising.

The New York Times reported:

In an unprecedented survey of more than 400 oncologists at 40 leading cancer centers, nearly half said they had been taught to identify wealthy patients who might be prospective donors. A third had been asked to directly solicit donations — and half of them refused. Three percent had been promised payments if a patient donated.”

Involving doctors in the fundraising process raises a number of ethical concerns. Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, shared some of his concerns with the Times:

Patients may be emotionally vulnerable; doctors have very close ties to their patients, which can strain asking on both sides; and the fact that incentives to ask sometimes skew toward the doctor’s own program rather than the most needy areas of the hospital.”

Another issue is, how will giving or not giving affect the level of care, or perceived level of care, from the doctor? Will patients feel coerced to give?

While I see the enormous potential for ethical pitfalls, I also see the significant potential benefit of having doctors involved in the fundraising process. The issue is how and when they are involved as well as the quality of development training they will receive.

For example, if I’m half-naked in my doctor’s examination room, I certainly do not want to receive an ask for a contribution. If I’m drowning in hospital bills, I’m not going to be particularly receptive to a fundraising appeal. However, if a development staff member wants to have lunch with me and my doctor to discuss the physician’s latest research, I’m perfectly amenable to that.

There are right ways and wrong ways to involve doctors in the fundraising process.

UPMC DM Appeal

UPMC Cancer Center Direct-Mail Appeal.

That brings me to the letter I received from Dr. David Bartlett in December. Dr. Bartlett is a world-class oncologic surgeon and medical researcher. He is one of the leading experts dealing with Appendiceal Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP), a very rare form of cancer I am currently battling. (You can learn more about my fight by clicking here.)

Dr. Bartlett knows me very well. In addition to knowing me as a patient, he knows that I’m a professional fundraiser who shares his passion for finding a more effective treatment for PMP. The development staff also knows me. Prior to going for surgery two years ago, my wife and I reached out to and met with one of the development professionals for the UPMC Cancer Center.

Yet, despite their knowledge of me, they sent me a piece of garbage intended as an appeal letter. The direct-mail solicitation was definitely not the way to involve my doctor in the fundraising process.

Let me outline the ridiculous mistakes that the UPMC Cancer Center made:

January 5, 2016

What Helpful Books Have You Read Lately?

Many of us in the nonprofit world read books to discover fresh ways to generate improved results or to find inspiration. But, with so many nonprofit management and fundraising books in the marketplace, how can you find those that will be worth your time to read?

Click for Donor-Centered Planned Gift MarketingI have a solution for you.

You can visit The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon). I created this site to help you find books that will get results and inspire. You can search for specific titles or browse the books listed in various categories, including “Readers Recommend” and “AFP-Wiley Development Series.”

When you buy books through The Nonprofit Bookstore, you’ll get Amazon’s great pricing and, without any cost to you, a portion of your purchase will be donated to charity.

You can help make this resource more meaningful by recommending any books you’ve read recently that you have found particularly helpful. You can make your recommendations in the comment section below by providing the book title and author name for any volume you think will be of value to nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals. The book(s) you recommend can be either a classic or a new title.

The objective here is to build a list of worthwhile books we should all consider adding to our 2016 reading lists.

By recommending a book here, you’ll get two benefits:

  1. You’ll have the pleasure of helping your nonprofit brothers and sisters find worthwhile reading material that can help them and their organizations.
  2. You’ll have the satisfaction of having your selected book(s) listed in the “Readers Recommend” section at The Nonprofit Bookstore where it can help even more people.

So, what useful, informative, inspirational book(s) do you think folks should add to their 2016 reading lists?

I’ll close by offering you a free e-book from philanthropy researcher Dr. Russell James that normally retails for $9.99:

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.

December 16, 2015

Is There Just One Correct Way to Engage in #Philanthropy?

Peter Singer, a philosophy professor at Princeton University, seems to think there is just one correct way to engage in philanthropy. Not surprisingly, it’s his way, which he calls “Effective Altruism.”

While I agree with some of the elements of Effective Altruism, there are a number of points with which I disagree. Recently, both Singer and I had a chance to air some of our views on the national PBS program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly:

At the risk of providing you with a simplistic overview of Effective Altruism, here are some of its key elements and my concerns with them:

Donors should not make emotional decisions about philanthropy. They should devote serious thought and analysis when making giving decisions.

I agree that donors should make informed decisions, examine the efficiency and track record of charities, and understand how their gifts will be used. If more donors spent more time researching the charities they give to, there would likely be fewer fraudulent charities.

However, while donors should engage in more thoughtful, analytical giving — and many do — we should not ignore basic human nature and the findings of neuroscience research. It’s unreasonable to suggest philanthropic giving should be a solely intellectual exercise. The fact is that emotions are involved in almost every decision we humans make. This means, we need to give with both our heads and our hearts.

Individuals should seek to earn as much money as they can so they can donate more money than they otherwise could.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable, worthwhile suggestion. However, in practice, this could create cultural and economic problems. For example, if everyone followed this advice, it could lead many charities to become understaffed, staffed with incompetent people, or having to take funds away from mission fulfillment in order to pay competitively much higher salaries.

Our society doesn’t just need lawyers and Wall Street traders, we need a diverse labor force, and we need people who will actually do good in addition to funding good.

Getting people to donate more does not just involve getting them to earn more. On average, Americans donate approximately two percent of personal income to charities. Without earning more, donors could certainly give more than the two percent average without having to make a serious sacrifice. The key is to inspire donors to want to do so. That’s where we get back to appealing to both hearts and minds.

Donors should give where it will do the most good.

Everyone who donates or volunteers their time wants to support effective organizations. But, how does Singer define “Effective”? It turns out he doesn’t just mean efficient and impactful. For Singer, effective is essentially synonymous with life-saving. Singer demonstrates this at The Life You Can Save, a website he founded, where all of the recommended charities focus on saving lives.

While saving lives is certainly noble, Singer doesn’t simply advocate for such charities. He ridicules donors who support charities that are not engaged in life-saving activities. Among his favorite targets are donors to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He implies that people who donate to Make-a-Wish are guilty of murder since they do not, instead, give to a charity that buys mosquito nets to prevent malaria. You can read my analysis of a Singer anti-Make-a-Wish column here.

Actually, Singer himself is not always in favor of saving lives. For example, he has supported infanticide, what he calls “after-birth abortion.” Under certain circumstances, defined by Singer, he believes it is perfectly acceptable to murder babies. In Practical Ethics, he wrote:

November 24, 2015

What are Your Favorite LinkedIn Discussion Groups?

John Heywood, the 16th century English writer, once stated:

Many hands make light work.”

While Heywood might not have been the one to coin the phrase, he certainly helped preserve and popularize it. It’s a nice bit of common sense that we all need to be reminded of periodically.

For example, we can’t know everything. We can’t research an answer to every question by ourselves. We can’t read all of the professional publications to determine which items are of greatest importance or value.Spiral of Hands by lostintheredwoods via Flickr

That’s where LinkedIn Discussion Groups can help. By being part of a network of nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, we can rely on the assistance of colleagues. In turn, we can also be of help.

Through LinkedIn, I’ve developed my professional relationships, broadened my professional network,  made new friends, accessed valuable information I never would have on my own, had some of my questions answered, and much more. I’ve engaged in provocative conversations. I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve been inspired.

While I belong to 45 professional LinkedIn Groups that are excellent, there are only some I engage with regularly. Here are just ten of my favorites:

[Note: You might need to be logged into your LinkedIn account for the above links to work. Even then, if you have any problems with the links, you can simply search on the Group names I’ve listed.]

Now, let me tell you about my absolute favorite Group.

Just days ago, I have created a new LinkedIn Discussion Group:

Blog Posts for Fundraising Pros & Nonprofit Managers

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.

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