Posts tagged ‘ethics’

August 28, 2019

Would You Have Accepted Money from Jeffrey Epstein?

A reporter for The Miami Herald interviewed me recently about whether charities should have rejected charitable contributions from Jeffrey Epstein, an admitted child sex trafficker who faced new accusations prior to his suicide earlier this month.

Now, I’ll ask you, would you have accepted a donation from Epstein?

Your knee-jerk response might be, “No!” Or, you might have a more emphatic and colorful response. It’s even possible that you would have accepted a charitable contribution from Epstein. You certainly wouldn’t be alone. Many nonprofit organizations have accepted substantial gifts from Epstein including Harvard University, the Ohio State University, the Palm Beach Police Scholarship Fund, Verse Video Inc. (a nonprofit that funds the PBS series Poetry in America), Ballet Florida, and other nonprofit organizations. Some nonprofits accepted Epstein’s money before his legal troubles, some after his initial plea deal on prostitution charges, and some around the time of the swirling accusations of child sex trafficking this year.

So, once again, would you have accepted a donation from Epstein?

As I told the reporter from the Herald, it’s not a simple question. It’s complex. It’s nuanced.

One factor is timing. Some might consider donations made before Epstein’s legal troubles to be completely problem-free. On the other hand, some charities might have more of an issue with an Epstein contribution made after his 2008 plea deal. However, after Epstein served his sentence, some charities would have been willing to accept an Epstein contribution once again.

Another timing issue involves whether a nonprofit had already spent Epstein’s donation prior to his legal difficulties. For example, Harvard says it spent Epstein’s donation by that time. In other words, there was nothing left to return.

Another factor to consider is the type of recipient charity. For example, a university might have been more willing to accept an Epstein donation than a child welfare charity would be.

Consideration of Epstein’s philanthropy gets even more complicated when we consider broader cultural issues. For example, in our society, we believe that ex-felons have paid their debt to society and, therefore, should be free to live life as full citizens including having the right to be philanthropic. Furthermore, we believe in a presumption of innocence. Epstein was not convicted of any new charges prior to his death.

More broadly, we must consider whether charities are supposed to investigate and pass judgment on donors before deciding whether to accept a gift. Many major donors, I dare say, have done something that they probably would prefer you didn’t know about, even if not rising to a criminal level. When does due diligence turn into snooping? Do you want your organization to have a reputation of hyper-scrutinizing prospective donors? Would major donors want to submit to that kind of treatment or would they simply take their money elsewhere?

When doing your due diligence, keep in mind that some of this nation’s greatest philanthropists were also troubling figures such as Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and others. Charities are not in business to turn away contributions. They exist to take donations and use the funds to enhance communities and the world.

For example, I know of an order of nuns who accepts donations from known Mafia figures. They believe that they can take the funds and do more good with it than would be done if the money were left in the hands of the mobsters.

Having said that, the issues surrounding Epstein are certainly complex. I’ve only touched on some of the issues. The Miami Herald did a great job exploring some of the complications. You can read the article by clicking here.

To navigate a complex ethical dilemma, charities should consider all possible courses of action from multiple perspectives. In my article in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, I wrote:

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June 11, 2019

4 Major Problems with Nonprofit Compensation

Salaries are a big problem for nonprofit organizations. However, the problem, or rather problems, might not be what you think they are.

Let’s look at just four major issues:

1. Nonprofit staff earns too much money. The mainstream media regularly trumpet the high salaries that some nonprofit executives receive. Through their selective reporting, many in the media advance a narrative that suggests nonprofit professionals earn too much money. As a result, donors focus frequently on charity overhead, including salaries, rather than program and service outcomes when evaluating charitable organizations.

2. Nonprofit staff earns too little money. Simply put, many people working for nonprofit organizations are grotesquely underpaid. For example, I recently came across an advertisement for a nonprofit Administrative Manager and Marketing Associate in Washington, DC. The charity requires candidates to have a college degree and an automobile. The organization offers an annual salary of just $35,000. Take a moment and think about that. The job pays $35,000 a year in Washington, DC! In case you don’t know, Washington, DC is the fifth most expensive city in the US, according to Kiplinger.

Yes, some charity executives are overpaid. However, many high-paid nonprofit employees are worth every dollar because of their skills and proven results. Geographical cost of living is another reason some nonprofit professionals earn higher salaries. On the other hand, the story that the media seldom cover is that of underpaid nonprofit staff. The failure to provide a competitive salary, or even a salary someone can live on reasonably, makes it difficult for charities to attract and retain talented staff.

Maclean’s examined nearly 600 charities in Canada with gross revenue of over $2 million (Canadian $). The publication found charities that significantly overpaid or underpaid chief executives, relative to peer organizations, were less likely to be transparent or efficient. “Analysis of charity data suggests extremely high compensation is linked to poor results for charities. But intriguingly, so is extremely low compensation,” according to the report. “High salaries receive the most attention, but Maclean’s found a stronger correlation with poor performance at charities that underpay their staff or have no staff at all.”

Ideally, nonprofit organization would provide employees with competitive compensation packages taking into account the type and size of organization, the job position, and geographic area. Compensation does not have to be precisely average; it can be high or low though it should be within the average range. Compensation that is excessively high or low can be directly problematic and could be a symptom of other problems at the organization.

This brings me to a third compensation problem:

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January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

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September 14, 2018

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Fundraising in Times of Crisis

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Florence is barreling toward North Carolina. Watching the news reports, I’m reminded that the best way to weather a storm is to prepare before one strikes. The tragic situation in the southeastern US can serve as a metaphor for coping with any type of crisis, even for the nonprofit sector.

The best way to deal with a crisis is to prepare for one before one strikes. 

Guest blogger Sophie W. Penney, PhD is a big believer in that axiom. Sophie is President of i5 Fundraising and Senior Program Coordinator/Lecturer for the Penn State University Certificate Program in Fundraising Leadership. As the co-editor and chapter author of the soon-to-be-released book, Student Affairs Fundraising, Raising Funds to Raise the Bar, Sophie will be sharing her insights at the CT Alliance 2018 Conference on October 2, 2018 where she will present a session about leading through challenging times, Lions, Tigers and Bears: Leading Through Crisis.

A crisis can affect any type of organization. The nonprofit sector is not immune. As I point out in “What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?” there are three broad types of scandals or crises: 1) self-inflicted scandals beyond your control, 2) self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided, and 3) guilt-by-similarity scandal.

I’m grateful to Sophie for her willingness to share with us a few tidbits from her upcoming presentation that will help us all become better prepared to weather any scandal or crisis as we continue to strive to raise more money:

 

Michael Rosen’s recent blog post, “The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession,” was a clarion call to fundraisers. The piece served as a reminder that a profession designed to bring joy and result in great good can be fraught with challenges.

Fundraisers are pressed to raise ever-larger sums (and the sooner the better); as a result, it can be compelling to focus on fundraising tips, tools, and techniques that will bring in ever-bigger dollars. Yet a crisis, particularly legal or ethical in nature, can derail fundraising not only for a fiscal year, but for far longer.

Fundraising in times of crisis hit home for me in 2011 with the advent of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal. This child sexual abuse scandal toppled the Penn State University President, resulted in the abrupt firing of the University’s revered football coach, led to the sale of a nonprofit founded to serve the very types of children who became victims, and rocked a small community previously known as “Happy Valley.” What’s more, the scandal came to light in the midst of the University’s billion-dollar capital campaign, which was on the verge of going into a public phase. Yet, the Sandusky Scandal is just one of many such crises to rock the nonprofit world:

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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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May 18, 2018

Thank You For Your Support!

With this post, I want to thank you and share some practical information about plagiarism.

Last week, I revealed how I was the victim of plagiarism. Someone lifted a portion of one of my recent blog posts, altered the intention of my words, and purposely misattributed them to someone else in an article he wrote attacking the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Now, I would like to thank you and everyone who supported me with blog comments, tweets, emails, and phone calls. Professionally speaking, the support confirms that my confidence in our profession is well placed. Personally speaking, the support warmed my heart and let me know that I am not alone.

At times, such as in last week’s example, plagiarism is an intentional act. At other times, plagiarism is accidental.

When I spoke with a friend, a college faculty member and former fundraising professional, he confirmed that what I had experienced was clearly an act of plagiarism. He also told me about a website that provides the academic community with useful information for good people who want to better understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. The website Plagiarism.org says:

Plagiarism is a common (and often misunderstood) problem that is often the result of a lack of knowledge and skills.”

By creating a better understanding, the website seeks to reduce incidents of plagiarism in schools and throughout society. “What is Plagiarism?” an article at the website, tells us:

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May 4, 2018

The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession

People join the fundraising profession because they are good folks who want to do good. They want to make the world a better place. That’s why I entered the profession. It’s probably why you did, also. Unfortunately, not all fundraisers are good people. Unfortunately, even good people occasionally do bad things.

Our professional organizations have created ethical codes and standards of professional practice to guide our behavior and to help earn public trust. We even have mechanisms to hold fundraising professionals accountable to those standards.

Now, a local organization has attracted national attention, but not in a good way. It’s a story that tests the integrity of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, CFRE International, and the entire fundraising profession. It’s a story that will ultimately reveal whether or not we are willing to hold fundraisers accountable. It’s a test of whether our ethics codes and professional standards are merely nice words on paper or whether they truly help define fundraising as a profession.

The story I am referring to involves the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. I won’t repeat the entire story here. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has already done some excellent reporting on the matter, and I’ll provide links at the end. For now, I’ll just take a moment to summarize the reports.

Former employees of the Foundation “accuse Mari Ellen Loijens, the Foundation’s top fundraiser, of engaging in emotionally abusive and sexually inappropriate behavior.” The Chronicle further states:

The Chronicle article, based on several months of interviews with 19 former employees, raised questions about the leadership of Loijens, who oversaw fundraising at the community foundation. While many say she deserves credit for helping raise significant sums at Silicon Valley — which at $13.5 billion in assets is larger than Ford or Rockefeller — former employees said she demeaned and bullied her staff, made lewd comments in the workplace, and on at least one occasion sought to kiss a woman working for her.”

Two days before The Chronicle published its findings, Emmett Carson, Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation, announced that an internal investigation of the allegations is being “conducted by Sarah Hall, a Washington, DC, based senior counsel at Thompson Hine and a former federal prosecutor.” According to The Chronicle, “The Foundation said in a statement that the ‘investigation into alleged incidents of misconduct will continue, and at the conclusion of that investigation SVCF will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of our organization.’”

On April 19, 2018, a day after The Chronicle published its report, the Foundation confirmed that Loijens had resigned.

On April 26, 2018, The Chronicle reported that the Foundation’s Board placed Carson on indefinite, paid administrative leave. Greg Avis, a founding Board member and former Board Chair, has been appointed interim CEO. The investigation continues and has been expanded.

On May 2, 2018, Silicon Valley Business Journal reported that Daiva Natochy, the Foundation’s Vice President for Talent, Recruitment and Culture, has resigned.

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation has many issues. The allegations of bullying and sexual harassment leveled against Loijens are just part of the problem. However, Loijens alleged behavior is not just a problem for the Foundation; it is a challenge for the fundraising profession as well.

Loijens behavior, if true, could be construed as a violation of the AFP Code of Ethical Standards. Specifically, Loijens alleged behavior appears to be in conflict with the following provisions, at a minimum:

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April 20, 2018

Do Not Make this Big Error with Your Next Challenge Grant

I’ve seen it frequently. Fundraising professionals often make a big error when using a challenge grant. And they compound that error unethically by misleading prospective donors. It’s a common issue that is costing the nonprofit sector a fortune.

What’s the huge mistake? Fabrication of a bogus challenge grant.

True challenge grants are great. When a fundraising professional inspires a donor to provide a challenge grant, the nonprofit has a powerful tool to encourage greater contributions when making an appeal.

Typically, a challenge grant will match new and increased support to a charity. Oftentimes, the match will be dollar-for-dollar, though other multiples can also be arranged. In the case of a dollar-for-dollar challenge, if a new donor gives $100, the challenge-grant donor will give the charity $100. If a $50 donor from last year gives $75 this year, the challenge-grant donor will give $25. Typical challenge grants are not unlimited; the donor will set a maximum total amount.

Using a challenge grant can be an excellent fundraising tool for four reasons:

1.  It encourages donor support by increasing the value of donations. For example, with a one-to-one match, new donors have their contributions effectively doubled, thereby significantly magnifying the impact donors can have.

2. It encourages donor support because donors do not want the organization to lose money. If a donor makes a new or increased gift, the charity will receive additional money from the challenge-grant donor. However, the converse is also potentially true.

If a donor does not give, the charity could lose out on some of the challenge grant. Therefore, while a challenge grant can increase the value of a donor’s gift, it can also create the impression of a cost to the organization if the donor does not give. Some donors are motivated by the concern, “If I don’t give my $125, the organization could miss out on another $125 from the challenge-grant donor. I don’t want to cost the organization $125.”

3.  It creates a sense of urgency to give now. Typically, challenge grants must be fulfilled within a narrow time-frame. So, prospective donors are encouraged to act now rather than delay their philanthropic decision. The sooner someone gives in response to an appeal, the more likely they are to give. People who set an appeal aside thinking they’ll get to it later, often do not.

The urgency created by a challenge grant is also useful for planned giving campaigns encouraging donors to include the charity in their Will (Charitable Bequest). People do not like to think about end-of-life planning, so it’s easy for them to keep delaying until it’s too late. A challenge grant creates a sense of urgency that can overcome what social scientists call personal mortality salience.

You can read about a fantastic challenge-grant campaign for planned giving in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, beginning on page 188.

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March 8, 2018

Update: Is the Nonprofit Sector Ignoring the #TimesUp Movement?

I’m surprised. You might be, too.

At the end of last month, I published the post “#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune.” The post is one of my least read articles so far this year. By comparison, several old posts that I have not promoted for a long time have attracted far more readers during the past week. Given the seriousness of workplace sexual harassment and assault, I am disappointed that my post on the subject has not received more attention.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not whining. I’m simply concerned that an important, timely issue facing the nonprofit sector is apparently of little interest to fundraising professionals and nonprofit managers.

Why do you think my previous #TimesUp post has attracted so few readers?

It could be that folks do not believe it’s really a significant issue for the nonprofit sector; after all, we do good so we must be good. Or, it could be that nonprofit professionals don’t believe they have the power to bring change to their organizations, so they don’t bother thinking about it. Or, it could be something else. What do you think?

Interestingly, the percentage of post readers who responded to my one-question anonymous survey was above average. While the broader universe of potential readers might not have been interested in the article, those who did read the piece were highly engaged.

The poll was admittedly unscientific. Nevertheless, I owe it to those who responded to share the results:

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February 27, 2018

#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune

The nonprofit and philanthropic communities are not immune. We must face a sad truth: Sexual harassment and assault do not exist exclusively in Hollywood or even just the broader for-profit sector. The problems also fester in the nonprofit and philanthropic sphere. The issue is so serious for the nonprofit sector that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has recently issued a clear statement and planned steps to address the situation.

The victims of Harvey Weinstein made the world aware, in 2017, of the Hollywood movie mogul’s alleged despicable acts of sexual harassment and assault. The revelations led to the #MeToo social media movement that put the spotlight on other alleged perpetrators in the film and other industries.

As the year ended, the #MeToo movement evolved into the #TimesUp initiative. Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, described the transition this way:

The simple shift in hashtag, #MeToo to #TimesUp, is telling: While the former has, thus far, largely emphasized the personal and the anecdotal, #TimesUp — objective in subject, inclusive of verb, suggestive of action — embraces the political. It attempts to expand the fight against sexual harassment, and the workplace inequality that has allowed it to flourish for so long, beyond the realm of the individual story, the individual reality.”

The #TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, part of the new movement, set an initial $15 million goal, now $22 million. As of this writing, over $21 million has been raised from nearly 20,000 donors through GoFundMe.

Within the nonprofit sector, it’s easy for us to have a false sense of comfort. Some may believe others are addressing the problem adequately. Others may believe the problem is not that widespread among nonprofits because they are inherently good because they do good.

Unfortunately, there is ample anecdotal and statistical evidence demonstrating that the nonprofit sector faces the same situation as the rest of society when it comes to sexual exploitation, harassment, and assault. Wherever some people hold power over others, the door is open to sexual harassment and assault.

Consider just a few examples:

The Presidents Club. Over the years, this organization has raised over 20 million British pounds for various children’s charities in the UK. The cornerstone fundraising activity of this UK-based charity has been an annual gala for over 300 figures from British business, finance, and politics. On January 18, the group gathered at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London where they were joined by 130 hostesses.

A Financial Times investigative report found:

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.”

I can’t do this story justice. Please take a few moments to read the full Financial Times article. It’s stunning. Since the report was published, The Presidents Club has ceased operations.

Oxfam. Large international charities are not immune to scandal either. Oxfam officials this month released the findings of an internal investigation that found its country director for Haiti hired “prostitutes” during a relief mission in 2011. Furthermore, in 2016 and 2017, Oxfam dealt with 87 sexual exploitation cases as well as sexual harassment or assault of staff, according to a report in Devex. While the Haiti country director has resigned and Oxfam has taken steps to avoid exploitation and harassment in the future, the negative public relations and philanthropic fallout have been significant.

Humane Society of the United States. Wayne Pacelle, Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society, resigned following sexual harassment charges filed against him, according to The New York Times. While Pacelle maintains his innocence, he also faced allegations of sexual relationships with subordinates, donors, and volunteers going back years.

While the anecdotes are alarming, they don’t really help us understand how vast the problem is. So, let’s look at the numbers. In the USA, nearly 1200 sexual-harassment claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against nonprofit organizations between 1995 and 2016, according to a report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While a significant number, it likely only reflects a modest percentage of actual cases, most of which go unreported or are only reported internally.

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