Is there such a thing as Dirty Money?

© ReSolve, Inc. 2006

Q: From arts groups to bar associations to substance abuse organizations, this topic arises more often than you might think. And when it has not been discussed beforehand, and policies have not been created to address the matter, the arguments at the board table can get pretty heated!

A: A party whose interests go directly counter to your mission wants to donate a sizable gift. Should you accept the gift?

If the donor is a politician looking to cleanse his/her image, is it ok to accept the funds?

If a corporation is looking to cleanse its image, but that "image problem" is what your organization is all about, is it ok to accept the money? (For example, an environmental group accepting money from Exxon after the Valdez incident, or a substance abuse organization taking money from Anheuser Busch)

If the owners of a local business care about your mission and want to give a sizable gift, but you believe the product they sell goes counter to your mission, should you accept their money? (For example, the owners of a topless bar want to give a sizable gift to your women's crisis shelter.)

Regardless of the source of the funds, and regardless of whether the uncomfortable party is the staff, the board, or the general public (perhaps via the media), the worst time to talk about the appropriateness of a particular donation is when the money has already been offered. Then you will find that imaginary pile of money is sitting in the middle of your board table, taunting and guiding your conversation.

The solution is to use this imaginary dilemma as the starting place for a conversation with your board about the core values that guide the organization's decisions. The following questions might help:

For your organization, are there groups whose contributions might make some folks uneasy? Who are those groups? Why do those groups matter to you?

Why is this an issue? What values does this seem to go against?

How will you know what the right decision should be? What values would guide the right decision?

How important is it for your organization to walk its talk? What are possible consequences if you fail to walk that talk?

You will find this is one of the most lively and important discussions your board can have.

So don't wait - have your board spend 20 minutes at its next meeting, pondering this month's brain teaser: How will we know what the right decision is?

For a deeper look at Vision and ValuesClick

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