Posts tagged ‘right thing’

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:

September 1, 2015

A Charity Scandal with a Surprising Twist

Yet another charity scandal has made headlines. What makes this ongoing situation startling is that the charities involved are the victims while government is the offender.

“Nearly $10 million in charitable donations by California taxpayers sat unspent in government accounts at the end of last year, The Associated Press has found, and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee chairman said Thursday that he wants a review of state accounts and will hold a hearing to find out why the money hasn’t been spent.”

Since 2005, California has collected $35 million for 29 funds. The state’s taxpayers donated the money when filing their tax returns. The money was supposed to go to a variety of charitable organizations ranging from cancer research to wildlife protection.

“’This is just embarrassing. It’s unacceptable. People expect their money to be spent for these important purposes and these delays, you know, they’re not explainable to me,’ said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. ‘So I just learned about it, but I’m going to jump on it,’” according to the AP report.

Sadly, California is not alone in mishandling taxpayer donations to charity. For example, “New York’s top financial officer found donations languishing in its tax checkoff funds,” according to the AP.

While well intentioned, the government’s efforts to help charities have not always been efficiently or properly managed. I’m reminded of a famous quote from a former California Governor, President Ronald Reagan:

In 1986, Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

While Democratic administrations in both California and New York have mishandled money meant for charities, Democrats do not have a monopoly on making life difficult for nonprofit organizations.

While it initially looked like the Republican controlled US Congress might quickly enact certain charitable giving incentives including the IRA Charitable Rollover, the body failed to act before the summer recess. With a full legislative calendar awaiting the return of lawmakers, it’s unclear if or when the matter of charitable giving incentives will be addressed. This means that even if Congress passes measures that would benefit charities, nonprofit organizations will once again have very little time to promote those opportunities to donors prior to the end of the year.

While government can and should take steps to help the nonprofit sector, charities should not wait expectantly for assistance. Furthermore, even when assistance is promised, charities should not expect such assistance to be delivered in a timely or efficient manner.

As Doug White, Director for the Master of Science in Fundraising Management program at Columbia University, told the AP, “They are not in the business of charity. The government has its own issues.”

Another way in which government hurts the nonprofit sector is through burdensome, costly regulation that does little or nothing to protect the public interest. Such regulations divert donor funds away from the fulfillment of charitable missions.

While government action and in-action has a direct cost for nonprofits, the problem could be much greater. For example, in California, donors may now distrust the government to such a degree that they will no longer bother to designate funds for charities. Time will tell.

So, what can you do?:

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:

April 10, 2015

Can You Spot a Child Molester? Discover the Warning Signs

I know. The question is an odd one: Can you spot a child molester? It’s a particularly odd question for a blog dedicated to nonprofit management, marketing, and fundraising.

So, what’s going on here?

Child by Paolo via FlickrWell, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. To mark the occasion every year, I devote one blog post that will help you protect your loved ones from a nightmare crime that affects one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys. Fortunately, we can do something about this national tragedy. Let’s begin with how you can recognize child molesters and, then, we’ll look at actions you can take.

Years ago, I served on a jury hearing a child-sex-abuse case. At that time, I knew very little about pedophilia. My knowledge was limited to what I learned through the mainstream press. So, I assumed that most child molesters were priests or guys wearing trench coats and driving unmarked vans. However, during the course of the trial, I learned that about 90 percent of child-sex-abuse victims are molested by someone the child knows (i.e.: a relative, teacher, coach, family friend, etc.).

Because child molesters are usually people known to the child and his or her family and in their circle of trust, it’s often difficult to recognize them for the danger they represent. Fortunately, there are some helpful clues as to who might be a molester. The blog site published a controversial article, “Could You Spot a Paedophile? Here are the Warning Signs.” In the post, veteran crime reporter Candace Sutton identified nine characteristics of a child molester:

1. The Everyman. Child molesters generally do not look like child molesters. If they did, they wouldn’t be very successful pedophiles. Instead, molesters tend to look “normal.” They are often clean cut, respectable citizens. Remember Coach Jerry Sandusky from Penn State University?

“Pedophiles are almost always men, more often married adult males and they work in a very wide range of occupations, from unskilled work up to corporate executives. What to look out for is someone who relates better to children than to adults, and has either very few adult friends or whose friends might also be sex offenders.”

2. Child-Related Workers. While child molesters hold a variety of jobs, many seek professional employment or volunteer opportunities that will bring them into close contact with children. You should not be fearful of all child-related workers. However, you should limit and/or monitor their one-on-one time with children.

“Watch out for teacher adoration beyond the bounds of a normal crush, accompanied by ‘secret’ phone calls and special individual attention.”

3. Happy Snappers. Child molesters often collect photographs and videos of children who are not their own. While they sometimes produce and collect child pornography, many more molesters seem to enjoy images of children who are clothed and engaged in typical childhood activities.

Be cautious around adults who enthusiastically photograph children who are not their own.

4. Close Relatives and Partners. This one is especially tough. Unfortunately, child molesters are often family members. In the child-sex-abuse case I mentioned above, the jury I served on ended up convicting a step-grandfather of sexually abusing his step-grandson.

“The incestuous or family molester is usually an adult male such as the father, stepfather, uncle, grandfather or live-in boyfriend of the mother, who then molests the child or children.”

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.”

February 23, 2014

Honoring Donor Intent: When it Works, When it Doesn’t

Donor-centered fundraising is smart fundraising. Part of being donor centric involves always honoring the donor’s intent.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Code of Ethical Principles states:

[Fundraising professionals] recognize their responsibility to ensure that needed resources are vigorously and ethically sought and that the intent of the donor is honestly fulfilled.”

Honoring donor intent is essential for at least two reasons:

  1. It’s the right thing to do.
  2. It’s a fundamental way to earn and deserve trust. Without trust, fundraising would be virtually impossible.

To honor donor intent, you must first ensure that the contribution is received according to the donor’s specifications. This is particularly important for planned gifts when the donor is no longer around to make sure everything goes according to plan. The charity becomes the voice of the donor.

The next part of honoring donor intent requires that the organization use the gift for the purpose specified by the donor.

Unfortunately, honoring donor intent is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it works the right way while other times it morphs into something ugly.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Pennsbury Scholarship Foundation learned of the passing of an elderly woman in the community. I first shared her story in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. A member of the all-volunteer organization’s board knew the woman and knew the Foundation was in her will.

The woman’s attorney produced a copy of the will which included a nearly $1 million bequest for the Foundation and nearly nothing for her two estranged children. However, the children produced another version of the will where the charitable provision was whited-out, literally.

The attorney for the children approached the Foundation to negotiate a settlement agreement. The Foundation, under the advice of legal counsel, held firm and asked that the matter proceed to court as soon as possible.

The attorney for the children initiated a series of delaying tactics hoping that the Foundation would eventually negotiate rather than have the matter drag out. Under the advice of legal counsel, the Foundation held firm.

About one year later, surprisingly quickly given the circumstances, the court upheld the clean version of the will, and the Foundation received the full bequest.

In the Foundation’s case, the donor’s interest was in alignment with the charity’s. The Foundation was right to defend the donor’s wishes. By defending the donor’s interest, the Foundation ultimately benefited. More importantly, young people in the community will benefit for years to come as the Foundation provides scholarships that would not otherwise be possible to award.

Sadly, there are times when protecting the interests of the donor cross a line. In those cases, the organization goes from being donor centric to being self-centered, even greedy. This might be the case with the University of Texas.

Warhol's Farrah Fawcett portrait on exhibit at the UT Blanton Museum.

Warhol’s Farrah Fawcett portrait on exhibit at the UT Blanton Museum.

The University received a bequest from Farrah Fawcett. The Seventies icon left “all” her artwork to the University where she had studied art prior to the successful launch of her acting career. The collection included at least one portrait of Fawcett by famed artist Andy Warhol.

However, the Fawcett story is complicated. Warhol actually did two, almost identical pieces. According to Ryan O’Neal, the actor and on-again-off-again boyfriend of Fawcett, Warhol gave one portrait to Fawcett and the other to him.


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