Category Archives: Donor Bill of Rights

Would You Like to Save a College, Be a Hero? An Open Letter to Philanthropists Everywhere…

"O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion..." by KANIN
“O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion…” by KANIN

As a fundraiser working on fundraising campaigns, there are always suggestions that perhaps some very generous person might step in to “save” the Campaign.  My response usually goes like this:

While that is a really great suggestion, research shows that the way we will meet our goal is to first look at ourselves and ask if we have given our very BEST gift.  Then, we turn to those closest to us and ask if we have thoughtfully met with those individuals and encouraged them to make their very BEST gift.  Beyond that, we divide up names of those previously generous and reach out to them to ask them to consider additional generosity.  Then, and only then, would I suggest looking outside of our Community to someone previously unaffiliated. Because usually someone unaffiliated with our cause is not likely to respond.

Even when I give this response, there is always someone who says, “What about Warren Buffet?  Perhaps HE would be willing to contribute.” or “(Insert Wealthy Person’s Name), surely would want to be involved???”  Usually this stems from the person feeling so passionate about their fundraising effort that they cannot imagine EVERYONE wouldn’t want to give.

Forget what I usually say.  It is time to throw caution to the wind…

THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!
THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!

In the case of saving Sweet Briar College; however, it is time for bold and courageous action.  It is time to reach out beyond our community.  The issues at stake here are relevant to anyone who cares about  nonprofits; who loves a place that might face closure; who feels a sense of duty to give back; who puts trust in a governing board and feels betrayed by them; who counts on their charitable gifts to be used as intended; whose children start in Freshman year and expect to graduate as a Senior; who applied to and was accepted to a College only to learn from social media that your application is now worthless; who believe a will should be held in trust…

Forget what I said.  It’s time to point over the fence, declare we will hit a home run and make some bold calls.

1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof.  Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.
1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof. Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.

In the effort to keep Sweet Briar College open, I am throwing caution to the wind.  I am open to any and all suggestions.  I am telling people to look at themselves, each other and their community.  I am pointing over the fence, over the right field roof and WAY outside of our community.

This past week I was called about a potential donor who it has been noted has considered (and retracted) nine-figure philanthropic suggestions — $100 million to be exact.  When it was first explained to me, it came across that this donor actually might be interested in contributing to Sweet Briar.  I WAS SO EXCITED!  Turns out, this lead came from a consultant of a friend of a Sweet Briar alumna — and the consultant had heard there was a donor in Richmond we might look up.

That old mantra in my head nearly kicked into gear.  Not this time.  Instead, I put some of my fellow alumnae to work on finding contact information and perhaps shared contacts.  Then I decided I would write an open letter to him.  Because – really – this letter could go to anyone.

"The Long Shot" - Greenberg
“The Long Shot” – Greenberg

Dear Supremely Philanthropic Person,

Have you ever wanted to be a hero?  I can tell you how.

Would you like to make an impact on the world?  I can tell you how.

How would you like to save a College?

I know this may sound crazy.  I know I should have taken you to at least 10 lunches before having this conversation.  I know I should be making this appeal with the President of the College sitting next to me on a chair in your office.  I know this should have come from someone you know well.  I know all of this because I have worked at Sweet Briar where I was well trained in how fundraising “should” be done, but we have realized that we must break from what we know — and who we know — hence this letter.

I imagine you have heard through your local, regional and national media of the efforts to keep Sweet Briar College from closing.  Founded by a generous woman, Indiana Fletcher Williams, in memory of her daughter, Sweet Briar has served as a woman’s College for over a century.  Its fate is now uncertain based on the decision in March by a small group, the current Board.

Since that time, thousands including students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community have rallied for a different future.  For the future to unfold, it will take a tremendous act of generosity and vision.  We hope you might consider this act. YOU will be part of history — and beloved by thousands.

I am sure you have many questions.  Allow me to hit the most important:  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

WHO are you saving?  

STUDENTS - the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!
STUDENTS – the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!

WHAT are you saving?

3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.
3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.

WHEN?

WHERE?

  • Sweet Briar College sits next to Amherst, Virginia.  It is an hour south of Charlottesville and a half hour from Lynchburg.
  • The historic architecture designed by Ralph Adams Cram sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The alumnae of the College live all across the globe providing a strong network of philanthropy, admissions recruitment, volunteerism and community.  You will never be a stranger in the home of a Sweet Briar woman.
  • They serve Starbucks on campus, so you don’t have to worry about proximity to a good cup of Joe (in case you, like the Board, were worried about that).

WHY?

  • The why is the WHO (see above), but it is also….
  • Woman’s education produces leaders, particularly in fields with shortages of women and diversity.  The world, corporate America, the nation’s classrooms, the world’s boardrooms needs MORE women’s college graduates, not fewer.
  • Diversity. Sweet Briar recently (and many feel finally) became more diverse in all ways and including race, ethnicity, socio economic levels.   Research shows the benefits of a diverse student body for the entire community.  The current board cites this change as one of the reasons it must close and that this trend is not sustainable.  Diversity is one of the saving graces and strengths of Sweet Briar today.  These students deserve this education and the world needs these students.  Philanthropy is one of the ways diversity can be maintained.
  • Faculty – Sweet Briar College faculty are exceptional.  Unlike larger Universities, they are also approachable.  Classes are not led by teaching assistants.  From the moment students arrive on campus, they are surrounded by an exceptional faculty whose accomplishments are summarized here.  It took years and a century of establishing a strong reputation to attract, hire and retain these amazing leaders — we must not lose them!
  • Sweet Briar College is regularly listed as one of the BEST Colleges in the country for:
    • Student Engagement
    • Quality of Education
    • Liberal Arts Education
    • Alumnae Network
    • Beautiful Campus

HOW?  For the future to unfold, it will also take change.

  • Change. Change which all associated with the College (who wish for it to continue) are committed to embrace.  This change is in the form of solid plans, talented administrators, dedicated board members and loyal students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the wider community.
  • Plans.  There is a strategic plan thoughtfully crafted by experts in their field.  This plan addresses all aspects of College operations from admissions to development to land use to facility management.
  • New Leadership. Several potential Presidents with proven turnaround track records have been vetted and willing to lead. A slate of board members both nominated and recruited for their dedication and professional expertise stands ready to serve.
  • Retaining Talent. Sweet Briar has amazing faculty who are willing to stay.  Talented administrators including some loyal and currently serving and others identified for their proven expertise can step in to manage.
  • Legal.  Saving Sweet Briar secured Troutman Saunders to assist with the legal work.  To date they have secured a 60 day injunction.  Another attorney, Elliott Schugardt, secured a six month injunction.
  • Dedicated Alumnae. I, along with thousands of others, are willing to do all in our power for the future.  We do not ask you to consider a gift before giving ourselves.
  • Charitable Status!  Saving Sweet Briar has been granted its 501(C)3 status.

Generous donor, would you consider making Sweet Briar College one of your philanthropic priorities this year?  Would you help save this College?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful consideration and for all you are doing for the causes important to you.

PLEASE consider this request.  PLEASE save Sweet Briar College!

Very sincerely (and with strong desperation),

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

I, Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, am a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  I served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, I solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and I feel a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, I have spent my career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, I have served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  I am a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), am affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and hold a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

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The Donor Bill of Rights – did you know you had one? — What to do when those rights are violated or threatened.

Donor Bill of Rights - all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.
Donor Bill of Rights – all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.

The Donor Bill of Rights is a document adopted by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Giving Institute, an association of consultants for nonprofits.

The Donor Bill of Rights was developed so that donors — and the staff and volunteers who work with them — are aware of their rights.

Philanthropy

PHILANTHROPY is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To assure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights:

I

To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

II
To be informed of the identity of those serving
on the organization’s governing board,
and to expect the board to exercise prudent
judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III
To have access to the organization’s
most recent financial statements.

IV
To be assured their gifts will be used for
the purposes for which they were given.

V
To receive appropriate acknowledgement
and recognition.

VI
To be assured that information about their
donations is handled with respect and with
confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

VII
To expect that all relationships with
individuals representing organizations of interest
to the donor will be professional in nature.

VIII
To be informed whether those seeking
donations are volunteers, employees of the
organization or hired solicitors.

IX
To have the opportunity for their
names to be deleted from mailing lists that
an organization may intend to share.

X
To feel free to ask questions when making
a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and
forthright answers.

I believe in these rights.  As a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, AFP, I sign a code of ethics to support them.   I operated under this code when I worked for Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, and helped raise a number of leadership gifts which make up the current endowment.  I believe that the actions of the Sweet Briar Board of Directors to close the College and attempt to utilize the endowment for purposes other than that which the donor’s intended, is unethical.   Shortly before this post, Ellen Brower, Amherst County Attorney, filed suit asserting that this breaks Virginia State Law.

So what is the issue at Sweet Briar?  It comes down to a plan on the part of the President and Board of Directors to tap into the endowment.   Why is this a problem?  Read on….

Endowment 

Webster defines endowment as:

: a large amount of money that has been given to a school, hospital, etc., and that is used to pay for its creation and continuing support

: the act of providing money to create or support a school, organization, etc.

: a person’s natural ability or talent

Endowment:  Unrestricted and Restricted Gifts

As a donor, I have left Sweet Briar College in my will as a beneficiary of funds (this is currently being revised).  I have not left any particular purpose for those funds (this is currently being revised).  When someone makes a gift to an endowment and does not have a specific purpose for the funds, that is called “unrestricted”.  Unrestricted funds, pooled together, generate income used by Colleges, Universities and nonprofits for operating costs.

Restricted gifts to endowment are made to achieve specific goals.  Endowed scholarships (usually have a minimum) are created and the interest provides scholarships for students.  Endowed funds for specific purposes generate income for those programs annually.  Endowed professorships support a portion of a professor’s income or fund research projects.

As a former employee of Sweet Briar College, I worked with many donors who made contributions to the College’s endowment.  In fact, nearly ALL of the $13 million raised from Regional Campaigns around the country was to build endowment.  The agreements people signed at the time talked about funds being used for student scholarship, program enhancement and a few other priorities.    I feel a sense of duty to those donors with whom I sat thoughtfully and provided written agreements assuring them of the endowment’s strength and legacy.

Endowment Spending

Boards of Directors – fiscal agents for an institution – have spending policies that determine the amount that can be spent from the endowment.  A healthy spending rate is thought to be between 3-5%, even in good years.  The idea is that some years investments will be up, sometimes down, and a smoothing effect of taking a smaller amount ensures for the long-term success of the funds.

At Sweet Briar, the Board’s spending rate has been a higher 8% as the operating budget needed more income.  This is not healthy or sustainable, but there is nothing wrong with it.

Endowment Raiding

I never thought I would write on the topic of “endowment raiding”, but the intentions of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors forces me to do so.

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close the College and “wind down operations” including seeking legal intervention in order to tap into its endowment to provide severance packages, debt payments and other things unrelated to what donors intended.  This action is also inconsistent with the mission of the College.

Apart from my being horrified at such a sudden move by the Board (I have written about this topic on another thread), I am personally and professionally sickened by this action.  It is unethical and unnecessary.  I picture the donors with whom I worked.  Many of them are no longer living.  Others are contacting me by phone and on Facebook imploring me to do something (one of the reasons I have written this post).   Many of those donors no longer trust the people they worked with in the Development Office.  Who would?

Donors who give to endowment give with the idea that they are creating a legacy and are making a gift in perpetuity.  The memory of many dear people will be violated if the Board of Directors is successful.

Pledge Forms, Memorandum of Understanding, Gift Contracts

There are legal agreements which back up major gifts to any institution.  That is also the case for Sweet Briar.  Campaign Pledge Forms are legal documents with donor’s intent captured and co-signatures by campus officials.  Memorandum of Understanding are draw up for more complex gift agreements.  Letters of Agreement are drawn up for many five and six figure contributions.  In short, to try to “unrestrict” an endowment, these legal agreements will need to be properly revisited.  It is also not the case that a College or University can go to the heirs of someone and ask that funds be revisited.  There are many examples of courts upholding an original donor’s intent and rejecting even signed agreements made with decendents (unless the original donors outlines those who can make decisions for them later).  Trying to get children or family members to sign something should not be grounds to use funds in a way contrary to a donor’s intent.  Yet, as I write, the staff of the College are doing just this.

Donor Bill of Rights Violated

Of all of the rights of donors (a full copy of the rights are above), those I think are most important are the following:

II
To be informed of the identity of those serving
on the organization’s governing board,
and to expect the board to exercise prudent
judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III

To have access to the organization’s
most recent financial statements.

IV
To be assured their gifts will be used for
the purposes for which they were given

To make any attempts to unrestrict endowment is violating not only Section II of the Donor Bill of Rights, but also Section IV.  Furthermore, the behavior by staff or administrators to take these action is a violation of the professional code of conduct.

Board of Directors and administrators taking these actions shakes the very foundation of philanthropy.   Donors and prospective donors should have full confidence in the not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support.   I feel my own professional reputation is harmed by the stated plans of Sweet Briar College.

The only way to protect donor intent in this case is legal action on behalf of those donors.  I am grateful that SavingSweetBriar.com is taking on the important stewardship of these gifts.  It is sad that the Alumnae Association has not made more public statements condemning the plan.

On the heels of this, it also seems appropriate to advocate for stronger State and Federal law to protect donors.  But that is for another chapter of Being UnLocked….

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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