The Chronicle of Higher Education recently asked me to comment on the controversial aspect of foreign gifts. The motives of benefactors may be questioned when large governmental gifts to universities coincide with or follow major foreign policy conflicts in their region. Likewise, gifts from one individual or a family may be questioned when there are several perceptions about the original motives of their donation(s).
Universities strive to be transparent, ethical and mission-driven in their academic and advancement practices. Advancement officers and leadership should accept gifts only when they meet a campus priority and not just because there is money on the table. Donors may have their own ideas about what “win-win” means when discussing a potential gift. Advancement officers can minimize controversy by doing the following: 1) research the region and know the political climate; 2) conduct due diligence on prospective donors or foreign entities such as corporations and foundations; 3) determine if there are any political dimensions surrounding the gift; and, 4) always rely on reasoned decision-making based on sound motives of both the donor and the institution.