Are donors dominating charities detrimentally?


New global research probes adverse effect of donor relations

5th February 2019 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Donors who assert undue influence are shaping the organisations they support to the extent they are falling foul of excepted standards and even charity law.  

The problem has become so pronounced that Rogare, a fundraising think tank, is to research the issue on a global scale in a bid to expose how extensive the problem has become.

So called donor dominance is best described as undue or inappropriate influence that a donor or group of donors exerts over a nonprofit organisation or its staff.

Rogare is asking fundraisers around the world to take part in a survey that explores this type of relationship in five areas: influence over mission; inappropriate behavior; influence over a fundraiser’s role or career; entitlement to benefits and withholding donations.

The issue was brought to the fore in 2018 through controversies such as the Presidents Club dinner in London in which donors attending the event took it for granted they could sexually abuse female waiting staff because they were paying large sums of money to a cause.  

Rogare’s director Ian MacQuillin said: “This survey aims to find out not just how widespread these issues are, but also how charities have responded when they encounter these challenges – whether they support their fundraisers or whether they try to minimise the fallout to protect their revenue source.

“As far as we are aware, this is the first time anyone has researched these issues, so this will be a big contribution to our understanding of this challenge. So we’d encourage all fundraisers to take part in our survey ­– even if they don’t think they have experienced any donor dominance issues – to ensure we get as wide a range of data as possible.”

The research is part of Rogare’s wider project into donor dominance which is being led by Heather Hill of Concordia College New York.

A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy/Association of Fundraising Professionals survey in the USA found that of the three-quarters of female fundraisers who had experienced sexual harassment at work, two-thirds of them said that at least one offender was a donor.

Hill added: “Until last year [donor dominance] wasn’t widely acknowledged to present even a potential problem. This shows that we need to rethink this whole question, and develop new practices and ethics that will help fundraisers resolve these sensitive issues.”

The initial results of the survey will be presented by Heather Hill and Ian MacQuillin at the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in San Antonio in Texas on 31 March.