Sometimes it makes sense to turn down a gift. That's what Dorothy Ridings warned in a 2010 article titled "Recipient beware!" that appeared in In Trust.

For example, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to accept the gift of a donor’s library collection, especially if the books in the collection are outdated. 

Another example: real estate. Be sure to have it appraised and evaluated before accepting it! Ridings relates the story of one school that accepted a tract of land only to discover that it was home to a number of endangered species. The school ended up selling the land rather than developing it, resulting in less value than the receipt given to the donor indicated. 

Another tricky gift is art. It’s difficult to determine the exact worth of art unless you sell it, and donors will often have specific requests for where and how to display the art they donate.

Donor requests and restrictions are often the cause of problems with accepting certain donations. For example, some donors provide endowments for courses or chairs with specific agendas in mind, and sometimes these run counter to the mission of the school. Similarly, scholarship donors will sometimes request highly restrictive requirements for recipients (such as race or gender) that the school cannot honor.

According to various experts Ridings cites in her article, the key to saying “no” to these gifts while still maintaining good donor relationships is establishing, and frequently reviewing, a gift acceptance policy. While donors may still be hurt by the rejection of their gifts, they will likely be more understanding if it is explained that a board-adopted policy prevents accepting the gift. A good gift acceptance policy should outline what types of gifts the school can accept, the minimum and maximum amounts they can accept, the legal requirements that gifts must meet, and what restrictions (if any) a donor is allowed to place on the gift. In addition, schools should lay out within the policy what procedures will be used in accepting a gift: experts to be consulted, responsibilities of the school and the donor, and time frames for accepting or rejecting gifts.

Clearly outlining types of gifts and allowable restrictions will help the school in determining what gifts to accept and in appropriately communicating the reasons for rejection to potential donors.

Does your school have a gift acceptance policy in place? If so, how has this policy helped in regulating the acceptance or rejection of gifts?

To read Ridings’ article, "Recipient beware: Sometimes it makes sense to say "no" to a gift," click here. To see the full text, you must be affiliated with a member school or organization of the In Trust Center.