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How to Write a Corporate Gift Acceptance Policy

Published September 08, 2011        by Nicole

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Should an environmental organization accept money from a greenhouse producing, oil burning factory? Should a drug and alcohol clinic accept money from drug and alcohol manufacturers? Many nonprofit and for-profit corporations have gift acceptance policies to prevent inappropriate gifting for a variety of reasons. A corporate gift acceptance policy can ensure that everyone involved complies with guidelines and standards set by the board of directors or other governing body. Here are some tips for writing your corporate gift acceptance policy so everyone remains clear and you can accomplish your goals in an ethical way.

Gift acceptance policies most often refer to nonprofits that depend on donations and fundraising for the capital they need to operate. The Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) policy, for instance, states that they will not “accept contributions from corporations/industries and their respective corporate foundations whose core activities may be in direct conflict with the goals of the medical humanitarian work of MSF, or in any limit MSF’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance.” This policy makes it impossible, then, for MSF to accept a gift from a big pharmaceutical company, for example, who charges outrageous, usurious prices on AIDS medications for use in third world countries. This “core activity” conflicts with MSF’s goals and values.

Many organizations have very broad acceptance policies, like that of the MSF. What constitutes an activity that is in direct conflict with the organization’s goals can be murky. For instance, big tobacco is a major contributor to a variety of organizations that help people quit the habit. Their products would seem to be in direct conflict with these organizations! But purposely broad language allows the nonprofit to be flexible enough to accept this type of donation.

You can find sample gift acceptance policies online and tailor them to your specific needs. In general, though, your policy should contain:

  • Your organization’s mission and purpose. It is very important to have your overarching goal always foremost in mind. What are you trying to accomplish? Will these donations and gifts make that goal possible?

  • Purpose of having the policy and guidelines regarding fits. Why do you have this policy in the first place? You want to guide donors, but you also want to guide employees and those who accept the volunteer gifts. You also want the policy to serve as a means of protecting the organization from responsibility, liability, IRS sanctions, or negative publicity.

  • Indication that legal counsel may be called upon. In your policy, make it clear that you will seek the advice of counsel if you are not sure of the appropriateness of a particular gift or donor.

  • Your position on restricted gifts. These are donations that the donor wants earmarked for a specific purpose. Your policy can discuss whether you choose to accept restricted gifts, if you only accept them in certain circumstances, or if any gift that benefits the organization as a whole and is in keeping with its mission will be accepted.

  • Types of gifts accepted. Cash is always nice, but many organizations also accept real estate, stocks, and other donations. Do you want to accept charitable annuities, lead trusts, remainder trusts? Do you want to accept residences, jewelry, artwork, cars, or bequests? Ask yourself if your organization can handle the type of donation offered. For example, you may not want to accept a home because you do not have the resources with which to convert it into cash or usable space for your needs.

Another reason to be cautious about tangible gifts, such as real estate, is that you are then liable for any hazards or damages. If, for instance, that house that was donated to you turns out to be sitting on hazardous waste, your organization is responsible for the cleanup – and you cannot sell it without disclosing it is toxic. Use caution if accepting non-cash gifts.

  • Reporting requirements. In your policy, inform donors if you will be sending them 8382 Forms for tax purposes if they contribute over $500.

It is impossible to write every contingency into your gift acceptance policy; you can’t think of every single situation in which someone might donate something, but you can set up a committee to review donations and determine if specific donors fit within the established guidelines and work with your organization’s mission and purpose.

Writing a corporate gift acceptance policy can save you from making bad decisions that, on the surface, seem like generous gifts.

You can learn more about corporate gift giving from this article Business Gift-Giving Etiquette.