Should We Always Take the Money?

Looking at Epstein and the institutions who kept quiet

In response to my previous newsletter about the Jeffrey Epstein donations, I’ve received several comments and questions from readers trying to make sense of why.

Why various prominent institutions allowed Epstein to issue press releases saying he donated money when he didn’t (and didn’t say anything after those press releases went out).

Why, when various journalists in the last month asked numerous non-profit “Epstein donation recipients” if they really received the funds, declined to answer the question.

Why non-profit leaders, when hearing from someone who they likely knew was facing criminal charges and a jail term — and was clearly trying to influence the court and others to think “yes, but…” (he’s a good guy, he’s a donor, etc.) — still accepted the money.

I think that there are several reasons for this rather common behavior, but the #1 reason is that most fundraisers believer that donors aren’t regular people, and we must be treated differently than everyone else.

And so we (donors) can call the shots. Because you never know when and if we might donate again.

So, for a non-profit organization, Epstein may have been a problem at some point, and is clearly one now, but what if he gets past his current problems and is a guy with big money again? There aren’t so many people around who will give $25K or $50K or $250K or $500K to various schools and scientists and religious causes, so we need to do everything we can to not piss them off. Just in case he starts giving again.

But what if we (as a non-profit) do consider rejecting their donation, or telling the press that they reneged on a gift — then what happens? We could be shooting ourselves in the foot, big-time. Because rich folks typically associate with other rich folks, and some of those rich folks are donors.

If you’re a donor, and your friend is called out for doing something unseemly (or illegal!), you might then be suspected as guilty by association. (Or, at the very least, that you don’t have good judgment in friends.) Just when you wanted to be thought of as the wonderful, charitable, thoughtful donor! So what do you do? You stop giving.

And so on.

Non-profits can’t sustain that sort of upheaval — especially when so many are held together by large annual gifts from a small group of donors. So the practices continue.

One big PS here…. the idea of accepting a large “anonymous donation”, seems like a bad idea. Several of the Epstein donation recipients say that they didn’t know who the money was from, like this one. I understand a donor wanting their name to be listed as anonymous, but shouldn’t someone at the organization know where the money is coming from before they accept it? Of course, they should. It’s just easier not to know…

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- Lisa