When I was in college, I had the opportunity to interview the director of a large museum in our area. One of the questions I asked was “What is the most difficult issue you face in your position?” and his answer has stuck with me all these years later.

“When we have a donor who is willing to give a large sum of money, but it comes with specific requirements we may not be willing to meet. Sometimes accepting the gift –and the strings attached– compromises our values or our mission, and yet the gift could give us an opportunity to accomplish other goals. It’s these kinds of decisions that are the most difficult for me and for our board of directors. There are times we turn down the money for the benefit of our patrons, and while it’s the right thing to do, turning down a donor is very difficult”.

Finding a balance between meeting a donor’s needs and also meeting the needs of those your organizations are striving to help is something I believe every fundraiser struggles with from time to time. What happens when what’s right for a donor is not best for the beneficiaries of your organization?

In this article, Ian MacQuillin explores the difficulty of coping with two stakeholders who both have moral claims on you– something that he calls ‘donor-versus-beneficiary ethical tension’. Quoting Mr. MacQuillin, “If, as a fundraiser, beneficiaries do not feature in your ethical calculations in any significant way, isn’t it time to be asking yourself why not?”

It’s a good question to ponder.


Susan Arrington is Zuri Group’s Director of Business Analysis, and she brings 30 years of nonprofit experience to the team. She understands the critical role that change management plays in ensuring project success, and strives to help her clients adopt system and business process changes in a positive manner. Susan finds the passion of nonprofits inspiring, and is personally involved with two nonprofits who have missions that are close to her own passions.


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