An influx of support is a wonderful thing. However, it can be helpful to anticipate potential issues that may arise when accepting donations to support your work. Here are 3 considerations you might take into account.
1 | Donor Privacy
How will you really handle donor privacy?
It is easy to resort to the canned, “we do not share or sell your information” language but in the real world, I am asked to share donor information all the time. This comes up in conversations about how a particular project was funded or in comparing contact lists with partners. And anyone who has ever sent out an invitation or appeal knows that information is given to online platforms or mailing vendors who may or may not extend your privacy values.
The fact is we do talk about who supports what. My rule of thumb is that, frankly, donors come first. If I intuitively feel that sharing information will make anyone uncomfortable, then I opt on the side of discretion. I also keep an open line of communication with significant donors on exactly how they would like to be recognized for their gift, publicly or otherwise.
2 | Mission Conflict
Whether etched in stone or a work-in-progress, missions keep us on track and there are instances when accepting a donation is problematic in this regard. Perhaps it is intended to support something that drastically conflicts with your mission. Or it may be mission-aligned, but will obligate you to do something that you don’t have the capacity to accomplish. It can be difficult to turn down a donation but if it doesn’t reasonably further your mission, it may be best to do so. I like this gentle nudge away from earmarking gifts for a specific purpose:
“We appreciate your interest in supporting our programs. While it is possible to have your gift directed toward a specific program or country where we are currently working, we ask that you contribute unrestricted funding. By not restricting your contribution, you will enable us to allocate our resources more efficiently and where the needs are greatest.”
3 | Deal Breakers
What sort of community do you want to fund your work? Some organizations, particularly those that work in human rights, very clearly state that they do not accept funding from government entities as it contradicts their ability to work independently and objectively. Other organizations refuse to accept corporate support or advertising income. A statement on where you stand can also amplify your mission, as these three organizations have done with their gift acceptance policies:
“Human Rights Watch exposes human rights abuses like torture, violence against women, and child exploitation. In order to maintain our independence, we accept no money from any government. We rely solely on the generosity of people like you to defend human rights.”
“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recognizes the potential conflict between receiving donations from certain types of corporations and fulfilling our humanitarian programs. MSF will not accept contributions from companies and their respective corporate foundations as well as entities that lobby on their behalf, whose core activities may be in direct conflict with the goals of the medical humanitarian work of MSF or which may limit MSF’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance in any way.”
“Jewish Voice for Peace accepts gifts from any individual and institution that shares our commitment to full equality, human rights, and international law. We reserve the right to decline gifts from individuals or organizations that advocate viewpoints that fundamentally contradict our values, particularly those based in racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”
Often, we stop at donor privacy policies but do take it a step further to a broader policy on which gifts you’ll accept. If need be, simply begin with a list of dealbreakers. Spending time to think this through will benefit your work in the long run and perhaps even bring new funding possibilities to light.