Viewpoint: When is money too dirty to accept?

Trustees face a tough dilemma when deciding whether or not to accept dubious donations.

When are donations not to be welcomed? Very rarely, in my experience.

But when they come in with question marks attached, as they do from time to time, they usually end up on the trustees' agenda. It is on such occasions that our duty to ensure the best result for our charity can come into conflict with our own ideals.

What started me thinking about this was the attack by Camilla Batmanghelidjh, the director of the children's charity Kids Company, on wealthy business donors who, she told the NCVO conference recently, corrupt charitable ideals with the "rot of materialism". I've met Camilla on several occasions and have never been anything other than bowled over by her and the ambition and success of her work with the most difficult young people.

And a part of me is with her on this. She made me think of the late David Astor, editor-proprietor of The Observer newspaper, who always insisted that his many and generous gifts to charity were kept anonymous. There could be no strings attached, he believed, if it was genuinely a gift.

There are, sadly, fewer and fewer David Astors around. Everyone wants something in return – public thanks, recognition, a peerage even.

On the other hand, as a trustee, I am constantly frustrated by the realisation of how much more my charity, Aspire, could do if only it had more resources. Aspire funds specialist wheelchairs that are not available on the NHS but which allow people with spinal cord injuries a better chance of building independent and fulfilled lives. There are always more requests for funding than funds.

So how can I then say "no" to any donation, even if it comes with seemingly unpalatable conditions, or from a controversial individual?

Another champion of the marginalised tends to pop into my head at such times – Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her mantra was that it didn't matter who gave you the money. You must take it and turn it to good. It led to her being seen to endorse the Baby Doc Duvaliers of this world, and it cast a shadow over her humanitarian work.

As a question of judgement, then, this is a tough one - principles against pragmatism, ideals against needs. Yet, in one sense, this is precisely the sort of call that trustees are there to make. We must not dodge the responsibility.

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