Years ago, I dined with a board member/lawyer who’d given $100,000 of unrestricted funding for four consecutive years. Ninety miles from home. Nice restaurant. Just us two.
Asked for this year’s gift.
Then, he said, “Now, why do you do all these plays for the n**g**s? They’re uneducated, unsophisticated, they don’t like us, and you’re just rubbing our noses in it?”
I wanted simultaneously to vomit, slug, and flee, none of which are socially acceptable responses.
Dad once said that using the bathroom is the most socially acceptable way to buy ten minutes. I bought ten minutes.
“It’s not my money. It’s not my money,” I chanted to myself for about ten minutes. “It’s for the company. It’s unrestricted. We can spend it any way we see fit.”
What would you say and do?
[…] But then I thought about individual donors’ morals. Not just unethical oligarchs like Henry Ford, Rupert Murdoch, John D. MacArthur, or even Sterling. What about all the philanthropists whose fortunes were built on a million broken backs? Or a few? Or one? And I thought about my experiences with morally corrupt donors. […]
This is one of those moments where your organization’s (and your own) soul goes on one side and weighs against the dollars. It is an opportunity to educate if you can keep the bile from rising too fast. A bathroom break was a perfect delay tactic. Good job.
So what happened? Gift or not?
I told him that his points were valid in the Deep South and that I would take the information back to the artistic team. I then re-asked and got another unrestricted yes, after which I changed the subject faster than Warp 10. Upon returning home, I showered for at least an hour. Next day, I gathered the artistic team and told them exactly what happened and asked a board member (local) to handle this donor henceforward. Not totally proud of what I did, but this was a relatively unwinnable proposition.