One Gift Does Not Fit All: Gift Policies and You

By the time you read this, you may be knee-deep in holiday shopping madness.  And it may not be a Hallmark Movie movement for you or those you love. There’s a lot to consider, right?  It can become a strange familial calculus of reasonable costs, dream fulfillment, package delivery roulette, and mall or big box parking space availability.

Over the past few years, I’ve honed by my holiday shopping habits.  For example, malls and big box stores are the outer circles of hell for my introverted self.  And while on-line shopping through our retail overlords can mean free shipping, their excessive packaging, labor complaints, and downtown-snuffing ways carry a freight of a different kind.  So, I limit the mall trips and online shopping as much as I possibly can and do most of my shopping from local businesses. 

 It works for me, and I realize that for many people it doesn’t.  My point here is not to convert you to my way of buying. It’s to point out that for years as a grant professional and fundraiser I focused on meeting my revenue goals, which in turn helped support the great work of pediatric hospitals, food banks, early childhood education, and employment services for people with disabilities.  This was not a bad thing. But sometimes the sources of those grants and donations, much like the sources of the Christmas gifts I buy for family and friends, weren’t things I spent a lot of time considering.

I’ve been exploring the underpinnings of American philanthropy through wonderful, thought-provoking books, posts, and conference presentations.  Most recently, my Fundraising HayDay Podcast co-host Amanda Day and I have been fortunate enough to interview thought leaders in the field such as Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth.  In our two-part interview, Edgar explores the deep conflicts at the root of much of large-scale philanthropic giving. He argues that the timing, restrictions, and other processes often associated with major donations and grants may perpetuate the very inequities they are trying to mend.

Major news stories in the past months also highlighted the damaging effects of accepting gifts and grants without considering the source.

  1. Harvard and MIT accepted major gifts from financier Jeffrey Epstein, who pled guilty to two felony offenses in 2008 that included procuring a prostitute. Both institutions accepted millions of dollars in donations from Epstein. According to the Washington Post, MIT advised Epstein that they could accept his gifts, but could not acknowledge them publicly, while Harvard donated the remainder of a $9 million gift from Epstein to local nonprofits that address domestic violence.  (For more details follow the link to an article published on September 13, 2019 by the Washington Post, reported by Susan Svrluga:


  1. Two London-based theaters rejected gifts from the Sackler Trust because of the association with the Sackler family fortune with the opioid drug crisis in the United States.  The Roundhouse Theater rejected a grant for 1 million pounds, the equivalent to nearly $1.3 million, because its leadership team found a conflict between accepting the money and the theater’s work with youth and children. (For more details, follow the link to an article published in The Guardian on October 31, 2019 as reported by Ben Quinn: .)


If your current gift policy has languished on a virtual shelf for more than five years, now is a good time to dust it off and update it.  Points to ponder:  

  • Is there a naming policy or threshold for foundations, corporations or individuals who make or are considering major grants or donations? 
  • What types of support would not be acceptable—for example: food manufacturers that produce unhealthy food that also offer grants to combat child obesity? 
  • What if individuals or organizations also give to political candidates or organizations that oppose the kind of work your nonprofit does? 

It’s up to us and the communities we serve to make sure we’re doing the right thing together.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 2 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on season 1 and stay up to date on the new season here.

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