Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Do You Refuse A Donation?

Would you refuse a charitable donation from a tobacco company? From a strip club? From a bank?

What about a donation from someone who made their money in the arms industry? Or a racist? Or a paedophile?

I find it a genuinely interesting hypothetical ethical (hypothethical?) discussion, but these are real decisions that real charities are making every day.

Just this week the ISPCC accepted a donation from a group of fundraisers who took part in the Pamplona bull run in Spain. They were criticised, obviously because the treatment of these bulls is ridiculous. Mary Gamble (who I love!) responded, "We desperately need every single cent we receive. We won't be refunding it, we absolutely need everything we get." An animal charity obviously wouldn't take it, but is it disrespectful to other fundraiser's peers to accept it?

One of the greatest fundraisers I know, Denisa Casement, was once approached by a strip club who wanted to hold a fundraiser for a children's charity she was representing. ("We care deeply for children and all our 'girls' have kids.") Despite it being a legal business, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who thought the two 'brands' worked well together. She made two suggestions: either they give to a charity anonymously or they start an education fund for their dancers' children so they can have a better life than their mothers. The strip club manager left in a rage.

Meanwhile in the UK, a convicted child sex offender left over £1 million in his will to three different charities. Each of them had to make the touch decision of whether or not to accept this money.

More recently, Help For Heroes rejected the fundraising efforts of the English Defence League because they did not accept 'political fundraising'. Yes, the fundraiser is clearly a racist and an asshole, but where is the line drawn? If you disagree with a donor's politics do you reject them? Is there anyone in the world whose 'politics' you would fully agree with?

The answer of course is that there is no line...or no universal line. So what is your line? What is your organisation's line?

Two of the most coveted CSR programmes in Ireland are Paddy Power and the Ryanair Calendar. Most organisations want to be involved with these because the benefits are huge. But with one promoting gambling and the other claimed to be sexist, it's clear that there are charities out there working (and fundraising) against the negativity that each of these creates.

So the question is...is every business that donates to charity meanwhile causing problems for another charity? Why are so many of the most profitable businesses in our world the least ethical? If alcohol and tobacco companies have so much money to be giving away then are they being taxed enough?

The solution is of course anonymous donations - the companies can do lots of good and the charities don't have a dilemma on their hands. But that doesn't work, does it? Very few companies are willing to do that and if you don't want the donation on their terms...well, hey...there are plenty of charities desperate enough to take it.


  1. Interesting thoughts! For the charity I'm a Trustee for, we like "the Daily Mail test" i.e.: if this appeared in the Daily Mail, would most reasonable people think it seemed dodgy? Could we defend it without seeming ridiculous?

    Mind you, it's not a dilemma that happens for us very often... :)

    1. I forgot to thank you for commenting! I like the "Daily Mail test"...good idea