Ethics is not the decisive factor in rejecting donations, says IoF guide

New guidance from the Institute of Fundraising says values are important, but charities have to show accepting a particular donation will have a negative effect

Ethics cannot be the decisive factor in deciding whether charities should accept donations from sources that are not in line with their values, according to new guidance from the Institute of Fundraising.

The membership body has published a guide for charities on accepting, refusing and returning donations, partly in response to the Presidents Club exposé in January.

The IoF guide says that although ethics and values are important factors in reaching decisions on potentially problematic donations, charities must be able to show that accepting particular gifts would have a negative effect on the achievement of their purposes.

The IoF’s guide sets out the legal and practical considerations for charities when deciding whether they should accept donations in various situations and says there is often no straightforward right or wrong answer.

"Charities have to weigh up the potential positive and negative consequences to make a judgement call about what will be in the organisation’s best interests," it says.

"The value of a donation may not be worth the cost in potential loss of public trust and confidence in the charity, a detrimental impact to the reputation of the organisation, or a conflict with the charity’s ethics and values which could lead to a loss of support in the future."

The guide says there might be occasions when charities receive offers of donations from sources not in line with their values and they are unsure what to do.

"Many organisations approach this matter on the basis that acceptance of the donation would be contrary to the organisation’s ethics and values," it says.

"Although ethics and values will be important in reaching the decision, these cannot be the decisive factors.

"The organisation needs to be able to demonstrate that acceptance of the donation would be detrimental to the achievement of its purposes."

This might include, it says, a loss of donations from other supporters or funders at least equivalent over the long term to the value of the donation in question, or the loss of volunteers or even staff.

Several charities pledged to refuse or return donations from the scandal-hit charity the Presidents Club after undercover reporters alleged that female hostesses at its men-only dinner had been subject to sexual harassment.

The Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity initially said it would return more than half a million pounds in Presidents Club donations, only to reverse that promise several weeks later.

Stephanie Siddall, policy manager at the IoF, said: "Fundraisers understand the importance of making sure there is enough money and resource for their charity to be able to carry out its work.

"But sometimes other considerations can be more important. The value of donation may not always be worth the cost in terms of a potential loss of public trust and confidence, reputational damage or a conflict with the charity’s ethics, values and vision.

"These aren’t easy decisions, which is why this guidance is an important tool in supporting charities, fundraisers and trustees to know how to deal with these situations."

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