Saying No

eJewish Philanthropy welcomes London journalist Celina Ribeiro with her post, Looking a Gift Horse In the Mouth.

At what point should a charity ‘just say no’?

At a seminar on ethical challenges for Jewish charities hosted by the Jewish Association for Business Ethics, I was struck by the comments of one of the speakers.

Dayan I Berger, an expert in Jewish law, told his audience of Jewish charity representatives that they have an ethical and pragmatic duty to investigate the source of their donations. Indeed, sometimes, to reject them.

Charities, in particular Jewish ones, have a responsibility “not to bring the institution of charity into disrepute by associating with or receiving tainted money,” he said. “It belittles the concept of charity altogether.”

And when a charity is presented with “dubious money”, Berger insists they have a duty to reject it. Accepting the money, even when it would do great good for the charities’ beneficiaries, would “condone wrong-doing”.

But, is working with the devil sometimes a necessary evil? A critical part of a Machiavellian scheme to do as much good as possible?

Surely the answer must, at least sometimes, be yes.

A corporate fundraiser from a wildlife charity told me this week that her charity has built partnerships with companies which, in their past, have been serious environmental vandals. Rather than take the cash and run, the charity submits the corporates to a long vetting process to make sure they are genuinely committed to improving their environmental record before accepting any money and then monitors their activity during the duration of their partnership.

In this case the charity gets the money, the corporate gets the kudos and the environment which was being destroyed by the corporate gets a reprieve.

There must be a point at which a charity cannot forgive and forget; where your memory has to be long and your bank book closed. I don’t want to be putting my hand up for flexible morality, and clearly religious charities have additional ethical considerations, but maybe there are times when it is a good idea to dismount the high horse and think about how much good you can achieve by working with those who perhaps haven’t always been as good as you.

Originally posted on Professional Fundraising blogs; reposted with permission.

Be sure to check out JABE’s new Web publication, An Ethical Guide for Jewish Charities.