Gift guidelines are a board-initiated protocol for what types of organizations you will approach and accept money from, and the conditions under which your organization would turn down money.

Some examples:

  • A donor who has never done this before sends the same amount twice—was it an extra gift, or a mistake? Have a policy in place for examining gifts.
  • A corporation wants you to sell their products, or use their products exclusively, in exchange for a grant—when is this all right, if ever?
  • When and where will you use a logo. The US Post Office has some restrictions on the use of nfp bulk mailing privileges and the use of logos, so be careful what you promise a donor.
  • Some industries, notably banking, want to be exclusive donors from that industry. Know when this is appropriate
  • The Chick-Fil-A test: do the gift-giver’s public positions on sensitive issues align with/matter to your organization’s outlook or clientele.

Especially in social services, gift acceptance can be fraught. For instance, many food companies are making huge investments in “green” nonprofits, while continuing unsustainable corporate practices. They call it green washing. Many of these corporations are making legitimate efforts to improve their systems, but some are just using you for window dressing. Very common now is corporations tapping into the free system of social media to do promotions, for instance the Pepsi Challenge and Chase Community Giving. Make sure you’re meeting your objectives and not just giving free advertising to the promoter (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you’ve thought it through).

What are some cautionary tales/best practices that you have encountered regarding gift guidelines?