There are only three reasons for charities to refuse a gift, says Ilana Jackman

Sometimes they should accept donations from people or organisations that staff might dislike, writes the fundraising consultant

Ilana Jackman
Ilana Jackman

In my experience, people who work in charities exhibit all sorts of liberal-left attitudes. Chief among these can be a distrust of big business and huge private wealth.

This can make fundraising awkward, for example if colleagues are not comfortable with classy events stuffed with wealthy donors or object to hard-won partnerships with frowned-upon companies. We might not love oil barons, global fast food brands or payday loan companies, but if you’re not a healthy-planet, healthy-eating or healthy-finances charity, this is not your battle. Paraphrase this NSPCC statement of intent: "our responsibility is to serve the children we exist to protect".

There are 3 simple rules to follow when you are wondering whether to chase or accept a gift from people or companies that don’t conform to the highest moral rectitude.

First, has the money been legally earnt? If not, don’t touch it! Simple.

Second, does what they do directly contravene your mission? Again, this is quite clear cut. The church can’t exhort the government to alleviate poverty and make money from payday loan companies. Save the Children can’t partner with EDF or British Gas if it prevents them campaigning to help children living in fuel poverty.

Third, would a public relationship cause damage to your reputation and therefore your income and mission?

This is the woolliest one, most open to interpretation. When I was at the NSPCC we were faced with the possibility that Myra Hindley was going to leave her estate to the protection of children. Taking the money would not put any more children at risk, but we decided that the reputational risk of taking money from someone who made her name by grossly harming children was too great.

These decisions cannot be taken lightly – much could have been done to protect children today by accepting that gift. Another example would be a payday loan company and a micro-finance development charity. How companies like Wonga operate in the UK has no bearing on the mission to lift people out of poverty in the developing world through sustainable micro-financing. However, the irony would probably be too much for supporters – helping to promote and whitewash a company that keeps UK citizens in a circle of debt and poverty in order to lift developing world people out of poverty. It would make you look callous and disingenuous.

The key question is: if you are criticised, can you ably defend your position. Do you believe that many of your supporters would drop their support?

Your colleagues have to leave the rest of their heartfelt and often legitimate concerns and values at the door. They might passionately hate the way many companies work, but your charity was set up to achieve a specific mission and you have a moral and legal responsibility to chase all legitimate funds to achieve this. To do anything else, is to sacrifice your beneficiaries’ well-being and dilute your purpose.

I have always found that encouraging colleagues to focus on the impact of the income on our beneficiaries takes the heat out of their objection. They might not be thrilled about it, but they can see that we all share the same top priority.

Ilana Jackman is a fundraising and innovation consultant


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