You are approached by someone previously unknown to your organization about a gift of a large sculpture. She explains that she has recently downsized, and the sculpture no longer suits her living space. She purchased it through her interior designer years ago. It is an odd gift, to be certain.
With some tactful pressing, you learn that the sculpture is, in fact, not a sculpture at all, but an artistically mounted whale rib. She would like to sell the object and recoup her investment, but she has recently been advised that a sale between private parties would be a violation of the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA). Her lawyer advised her that she could donate the whale rib to charity if the charity agrees to display the rib. This would avoid conflict with the MMPA through the public display exception. Should you accept this gift?
This sounds like an extreme situation, yet offers of unusual and strange assets as gifts may be more common than believed. Some you should politely decline; some may be worth pursuing. How do you know?
This speaks to the need for every organization to have its own gift acceptance policies. Effective gift acceptance policies are not only understood throughout the organization, but they are also anticipatory. A maritime museum may need to consider the MMPA and its public display exception when developing its policies, whereas a not-for-profit rehabilitation facility in west Texas may not. They will have other idiosyncrasies to consider.
Beyond gift acceptance policies, the primary issue with any unusual gift is whether the gift creates greater liabilities for the charity than benefits. If so, the gift should be rejected regardless of the donor’s relationship to the charity.
Ultimately, donors are driven by charitable intentions. Thus, turning down unusual gifts may not cause as much ill will as fundraisers may fear. In all cases, the charity should avoid significant liabilities. The bottom line is a charity cannot allow its relationship with a donor to push an unsound business decision, interfere with the policies in place or impede the furtherance of its mission.
As Letitia Baldrige, the doyenne of protocol and etiquette, said:
“Manners make the world work. They’re not only based on kindness but also efficiency. When people know what to do, the world is smoother. When no one knows what to do, it’s chaos.”
The same could be said of gift acceptance policies.
If you need guidance on creating a gift acceptance policy, please reach out to us.
By Kristin Croone, Sharpe Group Senior Consultant
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