03 November 2023

Tarnished Donations

Welcome back. Here’s one you may never have thought about: Should institutions accept money from morally tainted donors? Would your answer be influenced by the nature of the donor’s moral transgression (violent, white-collar), if the donor could be kept anonymous, the type of receiving institution (charity, museum, university) or the size of the donation?

Taking a risk with controversial donors (from lumsdencpa.com/blog/view/taking-a-risk-with-controversial-donors).
To help, I’ll summarize what two researchers affiliated with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found. They surveyed more than 4,500 laypeople and nearly 700 professional fundraisers, all English-fluent US residents.

Five Studies
The researchers conducted five online studies with questions based on different vignettes. Three of the studies, run December 2019 to March 2021, investigated factors affecting the acceptability of morally tainted donations. A fourth, follow-up study was run in March 2023, as was a fifth that examined professional fundraisers’ experiences with controversial donors and donation policies. Survey participants were recruited from the Prolific platform, with studies 3 and 5 participants limited to US members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Final participant numbers for each study are shown in parentheses. For laypeople, there was a good division of males and females along with transgender, “other” and unspecified. Ages varied widely with averages in the 30s. Professionals were mostly female, with a wider spread of ages, averaging late 40s.

Study 1 (2,019) focused on donor type, specifically different criminal behaviors, and anonymity.

Study 2 (2,566) focused on three types of morally ambiguous donors (violations of environmental or data privacy practices and racism), anonymity and donation size (large: $100,000/small: $100).

Study 3 (694) largely mirrored study 2, except the participants were fundraising professionals asked to consider their own institution when assessing donation acceptability and how they think their professional peers would handle the same situation.

Study 4 (600) assessed possible confusion created by attributions of individual responsibility found across criminal and morally ambiguous donors.

Study 5 (52) was conducted with fundraising professionals to better understand the frequency and nature of controversial donors and policies for dealing with them.

Percentage of donation acceptability by donor type. In studies 1 and 2, laypeople were generally against accepting donations from criminals, but tolerant of accepting donations from morally ambiguous donors. In study 3, fundraising professionals’ preferences were similar to those of laypeople but less likely to accept tainted donations and reject donations from white-collar criminals. (from fig. 1, academic.oup.com/pnasnexus/article/2/9/pgad285/7281311?login=false).

Key Findings

Donor Type
Laypeople rejected donations from people convicted of violent crime; they had mixed views on donations from white-collar criminals if the funds were not derived from the crime or the source of the donation was ambiguous. Professional fundraisers were similar to laypeople, but they were generally less likely to accept tainted donations and, on average, rejected donations from white-collar criminals.

Donation Size
Laypeople had a weak preference for large donations from tainted donors, though those from criminals were unacceptable to roughly half of laypeople. Professional fundraisers were more opposed to large than small donations from tainted donors.

Donor Anonymity
Anonymity increased the acceptability of tainted donations for both laypeople and professionals though the preference was fairly weak.

Recipient Institution
Laypeople held universities and museums to slightly higher standards than charities. Donations generated by criminal means were only acceptable, on average, for charities. In contrast, the type of institution that fundraising professionals worked at had no detectable bearing on their donation preferences.

Differences in probability of accepting donations. Donor type had the strongest influence on donation acceptability with both laypeople and fundraising professionals preferring morally ambiguous donors over criminal donors. Donation size had an asymmetric effect with professionals exhibiting a strong aversion to large donations from criminals. Both professionals and laypeople preferred anonymity for all morally tainted donors. (from fig. 2, academic.oup.com/pnasnexus/article/2/9/pgad285/7281311?login=false).
Wrap Up
The combination of tainted donor and tainted source of funds is the least acceptable donation. If a criminal’s donation was not derived from a crime, however, laypeople differentiated between those convicted of white-collar and violent crimes. They tended to accept funds from the former, not from the latter.

Both laypeople and fundraising professionals differentiated acceptability of donations based on whether the donor had a criminal conviction or not. Donations from individuals thought to be engaged in morally ambiguous behavior were acceptable; those from criminals were generally deemed unacceptable.

Fundraising professionals were more cautious about accepting large donations; laypeople were broadly indifferent to donation size.

Of interest, the researchers found that only about 35% of charitable organizations had policies regarding controversial donors.

Keep those donations coming, folks, and thanks for stopping by.

Study of tainted donations in PNAS Nexus journal: academic.oup.com/pnasnexus/article/2/9/pgad285/7281311?login=false
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/999420

1 comment:

  1. My question is why do criminals donate to charity? I think I understand donations to politicians.