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Philanthropy Policy and Guidelines: Spring Cleaning Must-Haves

Nothing is more inspiring and magical than the generosity of a donor making a transformative gift to your health care organization. With this generosity comes the great responsibility of properly handling the gift, acknowledging the donor and outlining clear expectations of use and impact.

However, many organizations fall short in this responsibility because of a lack of due diligence before accepting the gift. Many organizations do not have up-to-date or even existing policies and guidelines or the proper documents that ensure donor and organizational expectations are achieved. This can lead to unmet donor expectations, disappointment, and worst of all, a lack of trust.

There is no better time to get your “docs” in order than right now. It is a necessary process on which you must embark for both your organization and your donors. Like the mundane nature of doing one’s taxes, revisiting the following policies, guidelines and templates needs to be at the top of your list, at least annually, to ensure industry best practices in a constantly changing world:

  • Gift Acceptance Policy – You have all likely seen the trend of larger gifts being made from non-cash assets and not the checkbook. With the emergence of these gifts such as IRA-qualified distributions, securities, donor-advised funds and other highly appreciated property, most organizations trip and stumble over their ability to receive and properly acknowledge these types of gifts. Are you prepared to entertain a donor’s offer to make a complex gift such as real estate, closely held stock or mineral rights?

  • Gift Agreement Templates – Gift agreements are essentially contracts between our organization and donors that acknowledge the gift, payment plan and recognition. It is important these templates are agreed upon by internal stakeholders, leaving no surprise revisions after it’s been sent to the donors. Your organizations should have templates designed for various funding sources, binding/non-binding expectations, endowed funds and legacy gifts that may be received far into the future. Often the largest gift a donor will make is in the form of a bequest. Are you prepared to ask donors to agree to a legally binding gift agreement backed by their estate plans?

  • Recognition and Naming Policy/Guidelines – An organization’s leadership and culture play a strategic role in deciding what recognition is appropriate for major and transformational gifts. Does your C-Suite share consistent views on your current practices regarding recognition? What happens if donors do not fulfill their pledges or become out-of-line with your organization’s morals and values?

  • Endowment Policy – Endowments are often gifts that are an expression of donors’ values and interests and serve as a mechanism to realize their individual legacies. How an organization administers these types of gifts reflects the organization’s commitment to the donor in perpetuity. Endowed funds are not rainy-day reserve funds. These funds are established with clear donor intent and restrictions and can be revoked by the courts if not appropriately used. Does your organization have an endowment policy and can your philanthropy team speak to the specifics of it when asked by donors or their financial advisors?

  • Campaign Counting Policy/Guidelines “When did the campaign begin and when does it end?" “Would planned gifts count in our campaign even though they won’t be received until far into the future?” “I’m not sure that I can make that size gift. Can I make a ten-year pledge?” These are just a few of the most frequent questions philanthropy staff and donors ask when in a campaign. Do you have guidelines in place to address these and other campaign-related questions?

If you have not revisited and/or updated these documents and corresponding information, make it an annual priority starting now. It is okay and valiant to say, “We don’t have this in place,” as long as there are plans to push this forward. It’s never too late to embrace best practices. Often, it’s much easier to start anew rather than modify and navigate the internal channels for approval. Chart your course now and reap the benefits of having these processes in place.

Accordant Checklist_Policy and Guidelines
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About the Authors:

James Gold is a Principal Consultant with Accordant specializing in planned giving, program assessments and campaign readiness. You can reach him at or through LinkedIn.

Jessica Carswell, CFRE, is a Senior Consultant with Accordant focusing on program assessment, campaign readiness and campaign management. She can be reached at or through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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