When is it OK to share what others have given to potential donors?

Dear Kim,

I am concerned that the director of the organization where I work may be using questionable fundraising “tactics.” For example, he would like to meet with a potential corporate donor and say “We would like you to sponsor five children for one year. Applebee’s has sponsored five children for the year, can you?” Is it ethical to tell a potential corporate donor what another corporate donor (such as Applebee’s) has already donated?

Thank You,

Looking for Clarity


Dear Looking for,

The tactics you describe are completely “best practice.”   Many things motivate people, foundations and corporations to give, not the least of which is who else is giving.  Many times, corporate donors will ask who else has given and what they have given in order to determine their own gift.  It is customary (and polite) to ask current donors if it is OK to share their gift amount with potential donors, but corporate sponsors never have a problem with others knowing of their giving.  In fact, generally part of the sponsorship package is an agreement on the part of the nonprofit to publicize the corporate gift.  Asking permission to tell someone else about a gift is particularly important when dealing with individuals who sometimes don’t want others to know what they have given, or may want that information shared only selectively.

Keep in mind that a corporation exists to make money—if it is not profitable, it will cease to exist (or, if big enough, be bailed out by the government, but that is another story).   Therefore, when corporations give away money they do it in part to help make more money.  Consumers prefer to buy from corporations that give away money and corporate giving generally increases employee morale.  So, 99% of corporations are going to want you to spread far and wide the fact of their giving and the amount of it.  Your boss is doing his job.

~Kim Klein