News & Updates

Wise Giving Wednesday: Gift Acceptance Policies

Sep 11, 2019

As reported first by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker and then by other media sources including the Associated Press, a scandal has emerged at MIT and other universities regarding previous donations made to these institutions by Jeffrey Epstein who recently killed himself in jail while waiting for trial on sexual abuse charges. In another circumstance, the New York Times reports that a number of museums and other charities are considering severing their donation ties with a family that owns a pharmaceutical company involved with the Opioid crisis. While we are not commenting on these specific donation circumstances, this situation has brought a spotlight on the importance for charities to adopt, follow and monitor a gift acceptance policy.

It is certainly difficult to say “no” to a donor who wants to make a large donation to a charity but this problem is not new to philanthropy. There are cases where this might come up, for example:

  • a donor may want to restrict the contribution for a purpose that falls outside the mission scope of the organization (e.g., a disaster relief charity receives a gift to address civil rights issues),
  • the restriction might change the direction of the organization in a manner that its board of directors would not deem appropriate (e.g., a modern art museum receives a gift to open a classical art exhibit),
  • a donor may be involved in a current and/or previous scandal that might appear to tarnish the charity’s reputation if it accepted the gift, or
  • an institutional donor may be engaged in activities that are the antithesis of what the charity seeks to accomplish (e.g., an animal protection group accepting a gift from a slaughterhouse.)

Among other things, a gift acceptance policy can identify the types of funding the charity will accept, the intended transparency or privacy of such gifts, and the rights of donors to have access to certain charity information.

Ideally, the time to prepare and officially adopt a gift acceptance policy that helps the charity face such challenges is before these questions emerge. In turn, charities do not have to start from scratch.  There are a number of online resources that can help including, but not limited to, the National Council of Nonprofits and the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.

While the adoption of a policy will help a charity avoid a gift acceptance dilemma it will need to be periodically revised and updated in order to reflect changing circumstances at the charity as well as within the community it serves.

Even the best policy, however, will not protect a charity from controversy if there is no procedure in place to both monitor and ensure compliance with the gift acceptance policy. This is an ongoing responsibility of both the board and staff of the charity as they carry out their respective roles.


Video of the Week

As part of our Building Trust Video Series, we are pleased to provide a video of Carolyn Aldigé, Founder and CEO, Prevent Cancer Foundation (a BBB Accredited Charity) which provides support for cancer research, education, community outreach, and advocacy. The organization reports that it provides funding for cancer prevention research and training to scientists across the country. PCFs public education program applies this scientific knowledge to inform the public about ways they can reduce their cancer risks. The organization reaches the public through exhibits, distribution of materials, its relationship with the media, and through educational conferences for professionals in the cancer field.


Recent Reports

We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit Give.org or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include:

Finally, remember to let us know by going to www.give.org/charity-inquiry if you are  interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO  
BBB Wise Giving Alliance