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How to | What's in a name?

publication date: Sep 27, 2018
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author/source: Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE

Recently, philanthropist Michael Steinhardt has been accused of inappropriate sexual remarks. He has a lot of places named for himself in places and projects around the world. This scandal is a good time to review your naming policies in light of these allegations. Using this donor as a case study, you can test your policies to determine whether they are strong enough.

However, in looking more into this donor, it is clear that, in addition to policies, charities need a good set of procedures to vet potential names. In my case, I always google a prospective donor's name + the word scandal and then + the word controversy. A quick Google shows that Mr Steinhardt was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice in 1991. More recently, his apartment was raided in January 2018 by New York police for stolen antiquities. This means there was prior information when a charity might have decided to decline naming, or suspend the name, pending the outcome of an investigation.

There are three key points here:

  • there were plenty of reasons proceed cautiously about Mr. Steinhardt as a donor for naming gift well before this.
  • good background research should have been provided as part of the decision-making on any gift from him from about mid-2000s onward.
  • just as we should review our stewardship once a year to make sure all the plaques are still up on the wall and that we are fulfilling our duties in this area, we also should do an annual Google check on major donors and names to pro-actively catch any changes.

Run into a sticky case? I find this ethics framework by Rogare to be very helpful with this process.

There will always be tricky situations with donors. But with strong policies and procedures, plus a culture of openness between Board and staff, charities can minimize their risk of damage by association with a disreputable donor.

Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE is the Editor of Hilborn Charity eNews and has had the great fortune to have only met reputable donors. That hasn't stopped her Googling just to make sure.



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