If you’re sitting on a bar stool in a big city hotel, stirring your Mojito, you might expect the person next to you to strike up a conversation. If the repartee is entertaining, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the person next to you extended an offer to move the party to a room upstairs. At that point, you have a decision to make. If you are on that bar stool in the first place, this scenario is not unexpected or surprising.
But what if it happens when you’re at work?
A prospective donor for a major gift asked a fund raiser to visit him. He sent his limousine to pick her up and bring her to his penthouse. Dinner and champagne awaited. As the evening progressed, out came a pair of diamond earrings. The expected outcome was obvious.
Here we pause to consider the options. Seemingly on the table (or in the bedroom) is the potential of a substantial gift for the fund raiser’s organization. Let’s say that it was a large enough gift to be a “game changer” for the organization, an amount that would allow the nonprofit to take its program to the next level, serving more people, solving more problems, achieving more good. Does any of this matter in the fund raiser’s decision making process?
What really happened?
She politely refused and left. The gift never happened.
What would have happened if she did sleep with him? Would the gift have been made? It’s an interesting question, but beside the point.
Gifts with ulterior motives usually go sour.
A donor decides to establish a trust and skews the numbers in order to beat the IRS. And you, as the gift officer, know about it. What is your responsibility to your institution? This time it’s not just an ethics question, but one with legal ramifications. Although sex is not involved, this gift falls into the same category…
Gifts with ulterior motives
without the charity’s well-being
in mind can go wrong in
so many ways.
Even when there doesn’t seem to be an ulterior motive, fund raisers need clear direction on how to handle potential situations when the lines of appropriate ethical behavior may not be as clear as not having sex with a donor.
Early in her career, Chicago-based nonprofit consultant Lisa M. Dietlin was playing golf with a major donor at a country club. She commented on some pretty roses, so he bought her one. Innocuous enough, right? During a break in the pro shop, she admired what turned out to be quite an expensive sweater. He picked it up and moved towards the cashier. Despite her protestations that she would prefer to buy it herself, he bought it. She felt very uncomfortable and didn’t know how to refuse the gift without offending him. She even tried to “forget” the sweater in the golf cart, but he saw it and returned it to her.
It wasn’t diamond earrings, or an expectation of sexual favors, it was just a sweater. So what’s the big deal? It’s that any time it appears that there is a quid pro quo in exchange for a charitable donation, organizations risk running afoul of the IRS and you run the risk of losing your job.
As soon as the golf outing was over, Dietlin immediately called her boss who had her document what happened in writing and put it in the donor file. “The incident caused us to set a policy that gift officers couldn’t accept anything that had a value greater than $25,” Dietlin said. The policy included meals. She continued, “If the donor chose a really expensive restaurant, the organization was prepared to pay the price of picking up the tab in order to keep the lines of ethics clear.”
Today, Dietlin recommends that nonprofits address these types of situations before they arise by including clear guidance in gift acceptance and personnel policies. This is an important tool for gift officers to have to be able to respond professionally to potentially sticky situations. Have a policy in place before the diamond earrings are offered.
Valerie Ingram is the Development Director at SITE Santa Fe and also consults with nonprofits on applying best business practices to their organizations.
Category: Planned Giving Marketing