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“Hi, I see your organization is doing fantastic work and I would like to give you a lot of money for programs.”

“No thanks!”

Oftentimes, philanthropic literature focuses on the perspective of giving – analyzing strategies, determining how to give effectively and efficiently, and debating the merits of how one should assess philanthropic action. (Admittedly, even my own pieces here on Philanthropy Daily have disproportionately focused on giving.) However, an equal part of philanthropy is receiving – whether that is an individual or organization receiving a grant or any other group benefiting from charitable works.

Sunday’s Washington Post published a short piece titled “Charity Works: The ‘Art’ of Receiving Philanthropy,” which shed light on the “other end” of philanthropy; however, the piece raised more questions than it answered.

Telling the story of a DC nonprofit, NeighborWorks America, the author shares some of the considerations that go into deciding whether or not one should accept or reject a donation. According to their website, NeighborWorks America “work[s] to create opportunities for lower-income people to live in affordable homes in safe, sustainable communities.” So why would an organization dedicated to such a noble cause ever reject donations that are trying to help move that mission along?

NeighborWorks America’s Chief Executive Eileen M. Fitzgerald commented:

If you don’t have the discipline to say no when you know you’re not getting enough resources to do it successfully, it will hurt your brand, undercut your ability as a nonprofit and burn out your entire staff.

The article goes on to share a story of a troubling scenario where an under-resourced project fell short of donor expectations – it created issues between the fundraising and program departments, the donor walked away, and the goals were simply not met.

How did they fix the issue? NeighborWorks America started holding “preconcurrence meetings” where every department came together to discuss the terms of a grant. Director of Stewardship Carmen Miller stated these meetings have had positive effects on the organization. “Preconcurrence has increased transparency, collaboration, efficiency, and in the end it’s mission-centric. . . . It has really made the difference.”

While the Post article can certainly be read as a great feel-good story about innovative philanthropic management, I am hesitant to think that NeighborWorks America has “solved” the issue of saying no. Programming and development divisions certainly need to be on the same page, yes. Nonprofits must care about their brand, yes. But instead of flatly saying no to a proposed project (even if it is underfunded), perhaps a nonprofit would be better suited judging the merits of the project independent of the funding. Then, if the project is determined to be a must-do project for the nonprofit, they could look at the funding. What if the funding is not there? The nonprofit should not then immediately say no; instead, the nonprofit should share their hesitations with the donor and then try to fundraise for the remaining costs. This approach: a) protects the autonomy of the nonprofit and b) judges projects on their own merits.

If a project is extraordinary, should a nonprofit simply abandon it because a donor lacks resources?

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