Posts tagged ‘right thing’

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 remolacha.net 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.

February 14, 2014

Are Dangling Bits a Good Thing?

As fundraising professionals, we spend a significant amount of time creating messages to our prospects and donors. We carefully write copy for letters, emails, reports, newsletters, and web pages.

However, can your intended audience easily read your well-written communication? If they can’t, they’re likely not reading what you write at all.

As I prepared to work on this week’s blog post, I received a Tweet from Robin Peake of Oxford, England:

I hate your Times New Roman font. I hate it so much, I don’t read your content. Please adapt.”

Initially, I thought the message was a bit over the top. While there are things I “hate” (i.e.: war, child rapists, disease, etc.), it’s tough for me to ever get too worked up over typography. So, I was going to reply to Robin with a snarky Tweet of my own:

Your loss.”

Instead, I decided to keep my perspective and use Robin’s message as a teachable moment, for you and for me.

When using the written word to communicate with others, there are six rules we should adhere to so that our messages are easy to read:

1. In print, use a serif font such as Times New Roman. Serif fonts have little dangling bits attached to letters while sans-serif fonts such as Arial do not. Studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading printed text that uses serif fonts.

Sans-Serif v. Serif Font

Sans-Serif v. Serif Font

2. In electronic communications, use a sans-serif font such as Arial. Studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading electronic media messages that use a sans-serif font. The cleaner lines of a sans-serif font make it easier to read a message on a low-resolution screen or a small screen such as a smart-phone.

3. Never use reverse type. Reverse type, whether in print or electronic media, is more difficult to read than dark type on a light background. It’s also easier to cut-and-paste, photocopy, and fax copy that uses dark type on a light background. Some designers like to use reverse type for emphasis or because it looks pretty. Nevertheless, you should resist the temptation to use reverse type for the reasons stated. The darker the type and the lighter the background, the better.

January 17, 2014

Is it Ethical When an Ethicist Browbeats Prospective Donors?

Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and founder of The Life You Can Save, not only thinks it is acceptable to browbeat prospective donors, it’s exactly what he did in an op-ed article published in The Washington Post.

In my opinion, Singer’s piece, “Heartwarming Causes are Nice, but Let’s Give to Charity with Our Heads,” contains a glaring ethical problem:

Coercive Manipulation. Singer suggests that people who donate to causes that he does not endorse, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, are guilty of murder.

Let’s look more closely at this issue before exploring other problems with Singer’s reasoning.

After pointing out that the Make-A-Wish Foundation does not save lives, Singer presents a variety of examples of how contributions to his select group of organizations, instead of Make-A-Wish, can actually preserve lives. Singer writes:

Yet we can still ask if these emotions are the best guide to what we ought to do. According to Make-A-Wish, the average cost of realizing the wish of a child with a life-threatening illness is $7,500. That sum, if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation and used to provide bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions, could save the lives of at least two or three children (and that’s a conservative estimate).”

Singer goes on to say:

It’s obvious, isn’t it, that saving a child’s life is better than fulfilling a child’s wish to be Batkid [referencing a child who benefitted from Make-A-Wish last year]?”

Such adolescent logic is harshly manipulative. The taking of a human life is widely considered the greatest possible sin. By accusing people of this sin, Singer is using guilt to coercively manipulate donor behavior.

Mosquito by Ibrahim Koc

Mosquito by Ibrahim Koc

Rather than offering an unbiased exploration of the roles of emotion v. intellect in the philanthropic process, Singer uses the forum to browbeat people to meet his own personal philanthropic standards.

I’m not sure why Singer thinks he is better qualified to judge which charities are worthy to exist or not. Nevertheless, it is certain that Singer feels he has a better moral compass than the rest of us. And, unless we want to be murderers, we should support his anointed causes.

What I find particularly interesting is that, while Singer appears concerned about saving lives, he seems little concerned with the quality of those lives saved.

What happens to the child who has been saved from Malaria? Would Singer oppose donations to build a school to educate those children? After all, the money otherwise could have gone to buy more mosquito nets.

Singer’s op-ed article provides an excellent example of what nonprofit organizations should not do when trying to attract people to a cause. Instead, here are some of the things that charities should do:

November 15, 2013

Prospect Research v. Invasion of Privacy

Edward Snowden became a worldwide “celebrity” when he leaked classified information about the US National Security Agency’s spying programs.

In the process, Snowden’s revelations have fueled discussions around the globe about privacy and access to information.

The Economist recently published a chart by the Boston Consulting Group that looks at how people around the world feel about the privacy of different types of information:

Privacy - The Economist 1113  

As you can see from the above chart, people around the world, particularly in the West, value their privacy. For example, the vast majority of Americans consider financial data and information about children to be “moderately or very private.”

That might explain why alumni from New York’s prestigious Dalton School were upset when volunteer solicitors were given information about the children of fundraising prospects. Specifically, solicitors were told about the children of prospects who had applied for admission to the School but who were rejected.

An alumna who had previously donated to the School described the situation to The New York Times as “horrible.” That’s the last thing you want someone to feel about your development program. It’s the last thing you want someone to say about your organization to a reporter.

The head of Dalton issued a public apology and a promise to do better.

It’s easy to understand the tension that exists between nonprofit organizations and their donor prospects. Organizations want to gather as much useful information as possible, and they want their professional and volunteer solicitors to know a great deal about the people they will approach in order to maximize success. However, this posture is often at odds with prospects who want and expect what they consider their personal information to remain private.

Charities face two issues when it comes to prospect research and privacy:

October 30, 2013

Special Report: Two New Books Acknowledge Rosen

[Publisher’s Note: “Special Reports” are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. “Special Reports” are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column.]

 

We’re honored to report that two new scholarly books have acknowledged the assistance and helpful insights of Michael J. Rosen, CFRE.

American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012), by Russell James, JD, PhD of Texas Tech University, provideRussell James Books an extensive review of the changing nature of American charitable estate planning. The book presents over 50 charts and graphs in simple, visual fashion with each page containing one graph or chart, comments on the importance of the information, and details about the methodology behind the data.

With James’ book, you’ll learn about the estate planning trends that affect planned giving; you’ll discover how different demographic factors (i.e.: age, race, gender, family status, etc.) affect charitable estate planning; you’ll see the impact of giving and volunteering on charitable estate planning. You’ll also gain many other useful insights.

You can purchase a paperback version of James’ book at The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon), Alternatively, thanks to the kindness of Russell James, readers of Michael Rosen Says…may download a FREE copy of the e-book version here, for a limited time.

September 20, 2013

I’m Sorry

Eventually, we will all do something for which we need to apologize. So, it’s essential that we all know the right way to do it.

Unfortunately, one of my readers reminded me recently that many people find it extremely difficult to say simply, “I’m sorry.” She told me about a secular charity that had scheduled an event to be held during Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday for the Jewish people.

Sorry by butupa via FlickrIf the nonprofit organization with the bad scheduling sense was based in North Dakota, there might not have been much of a problem. However, the charity is based in Philadelphia, home to a large and philanthropic Jewish community.

Ironically, the organization’s mission honors an individual who pioneered religious and ethnic tolerance in America.

My reader emailed the charity to alert it to the conflict, to let it know she would not be attending this year despite having attended in the past, and to express her displeasure with the organization’s scheduling decision.

Here is the response my reader received via email:

The choice of this date was not meant to offend anyone or exclude anybody. This event has been held on this weekend since its inception. . . .

[We] apologize for any offense you may take from us scheduling these events on Friday and Saturday.”

Let’s closely examine the message.

Regardless of whether or not the organization intended to cause offense, it did. The scheduling mistake was either a result of outright intent or oblivious carelessness. By excluding an important part of its donor base for this once-a-year event, the charity caused offense.

The nonprofit organization further offended my reader by lying to her in the email response. The charity claims the event has been “held on this weekend since its inception.” However, as someone who has attended the event in the past, my reader knows otherwise. She documented for me that, in recent years, the organization has hosted the event on a variety of different weekends. Even if the organization’s statement were true, it’s still no excuse for failing to consider a different date.

The person who responded to my reader then concluded by apologizing “for any offense you may take.” That’s not an apology! It’s a deflection. With this statement, the organization has not taken responsibility for its actions. Instead, of taking responsibility for causing offense, the charity put the blame on the donor who took offense.

September 13, 2013

$250 Million Gift to a Nonprofit is Withdrawn … Sort of

The news headlines were stunning:

Centre College Loses $250-Million Gift — Chronicle of Higher Education 

Centre College Loses $250 Million Gift After “Market Event” — Bloomberg 

Kentucky College Loses $250 Million Gift from Charitable Trust — Reuters 

There’s only one problem with the headlines: There never was a $250 million “gift” to Centre College!

Here are four lessons you can learn from this amazing public relations fiasco:

1. Do NOT mislead the public.

Perhaps the news media can be forgiven for getting the story wrong. After all, Centre College proudly announced on July 30, 2013: “Centre College receives historic gift to establish Brockman Scholars Program.” The official announcement began:

Centre College has received a gift of $250 million in the form of stock in Universal Computer Systems Holding, Inc. (Reynolds and Reynolds) from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust to establish the Brockman Scholars Program in Leadership and Entrepreneurship.”

Unfortunately, as recent events have demonstrated, the announcement was not just premature it was not true. The fact is that Centre College did not receive a $250 million gift. Peter Lattman, writing for Deal Book/ New York Times, quoted Centre College President John Roush as saying:

In retrospect, we might have put a big asterisk on this thing, but no one had any inkling that this would come about.”

The historic gift was a contingent pledge based on a complex recapitalization deal Centre College - Old Centregoing through. Regrettably, the financial deal blew up and, therefore, the gift never materialized, according to the College.

If the College had simply delayed announcing the gift until it actually materialized, it could have avoided enormous embarrassment. Alternatively, if the College had simply characterized the $250 million as a “pledge” or “potential gift” rather than a “gift,” it still could have avoided significant embarrassment.

2. Recognize the difference between a “pledge” and a “gift.”

Centre College had a contingent pledge for a $250 million gift. They never had the gift. It’s not a gift until you have the cash, stock, property, or irrevocable gift agreement in-hand.

Because the College never had a $250 million gift, it did not lose $250 million. That’s about the best that can be said of this situation. This is really just a case of a nonprofit organization publicly counting its chickens before they hatched. Don’t make the same mistake.

September 6, 2013

Only Business Can End Poverty

Approximately 2.7 billion people around the world live in poverty. Despite the fact that the global economy has grown 17-fold over the past six decades, about three of every eight people in the world exist on $2 per day or less.

The United Nations has not solved the problem of global poverty. Foreign aid from wealthy governments has not solved the problem. Charities have not solved the problem.

Certainly, millions of people have been helped by traditional assistance efforts. However, a new book suggests that traditional methods and institutions, while not completely useless, have achieved only modest results, at best. And, in some cases, those results have not always been positive or sustainable.

Adobe Photoshop PDFMal Warwick, the legendary direct-response fundraising expert and entrepreneur, and Paul Polak, a leading social entrepreneur, have written the new book The Business Solution to Poverty, to be released on September 9, 2013.

The provocative book has been described by Bill Clinton, former US President, as, “One  of the most helpful propositions to come along in a long time … original, ambitious, and practical.”

In their book, the authors define the nature of poverty. They review what has been done, citing what has worked and what has not. When reviewing what has worked, they also point out the huge limitations of the positive results achieved by traditional institutions using traditional methods. Finally, the authors outline their ideas for dramatically reducing global poverty and the suffering of billions of people.

As citizens of the world and as nonprofit professionals, we should all pay particular attention to what Polak and Warwick suggest. If you’re interested in learning more about the book, you can visit the authors’ website. To get a copy of the book and help ensure a successful book launch, you can purchase your copy at The Nonprofit Bookstore, powered by Amazon, on Monday, September 9, the day it is released.

One of the assertions that the authors make in the book is: “Only Business Can End Poverty.” It’s a thought that many, particularly those in the charity sector, will find provocative. After all, the authors are critical of the nonprofit sector.

I’m honored that the authors have allowed me to share some excerpts from their book with you. Let me know what you think of what Polak and Warwick have to say:

 

Poor people themselves tell us that the main reason they are poor is that they don’t have enough money. We agree with them. At first blush, this seems simple and obvious, but conventional approaches seem to focus on everything but helping poor people improve their livelihoods as the most important first step to ending poverty.

TAKEAWAY #3:

The most obvious, direct, and effective way to combat poverty is to enable poor people to earn more money.

However, instead of this obvious approach, efforts to eradicate poverty have tried just about everything else.

 

More than five million citizen-based organizations around the world have joined official and multilateral efforts to combat poverty. The biggest, typically called INGOs (international nongovernmental organizations), work in scores of countries, often have operating budgets upward of $500 million, and sometimes possess widely recognizable brands. Among the most powerful few are World Vision, CARE, Save the Children, and Catholic Relief Services (all based in the United States); Oxfam (UK); Médecins sans Frontiéres (Doctors without Borders, France); and BRAC (Bangladesh). At the other end of the spectrum are organizations at the village or community level typically referred to as community-based organizations, or CBOs. They number in the millions and normally operate without paid staff and with little or no money.

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