Do you have dirty donors?

Do you vet your donors for moral suitability? It’s not as crazy as it sounds, as brought up recently at the PhilanTopic blog at ‘Dirty’ Money.

The post recounts a New York Times story about a chapel in Mexico that was funded by a drug lord know as “the executioner.” The unsavory benefactor is recognized by a plaque on the site.

None of us could know this, but the Church may be using the drug lord’s donation as part of his program of rehabilitation and salvation. (I have to admit, that sounds far-fetched. But stranger things happen all the time.)

If that’s not happening, then this seems like one of those cases where accepting the money does a lot more harm than good. It looks like the Church is cooperating with a thoroughly bad actor just because it’s convenient do to so. The harm to their reputation is huge.

That can happen to any charity when a donor uses it in an attempt to add a veneer of respectability to their reputation that their behavior doesn’t otherwise give them. Donors of that type are probably going to fail in the attempt, but the nonprofits that cooperate with their schemes can be deeply damaged:

In both good and lean economic times (but especially the latter), temptation … knocks on many a nonprofit door. I recall vividly, many decades later, the words of a civil rights leader in the South who declared, “The problem with tainted money is ’tain’t’ enough.”

The gifts you should be wary of are those made publically, where it’s clear the donor is linking their reputation with yours. In those cases, make sure accepting the gift or entering the partnership won’t make it look like you aren’t paying attention, or you don’t really care about your cause, as when Susan G. Komen publically entered a partnership with KFC last year.

But don’t be too quick to judge an individual donor as unworthy, especially when it’s private, the way most giving happens. Nearly all gifts are given with mixed motives, and all donors, like all humans, have flaws. For all you know, any given donor is shot through with personal failings, like:


  • Owns a business that buys or sells Nestlé products.
  • Expresses outrageous or obnoxious opinions.
  • Kicks dogs.
  • Doesn’t recycle.
  • Is a jerk.

Things like these might make a donor someone you’d rather not hang out with. But it doesn’t necessarily make the money dirty.

My advice: Don’t worry about the taint of the money’s origin. Worry about the taint it could give you.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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