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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Ethical Guidelines for the Acceptance of Gifts and Donations

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    Ethical Guidelines for the Acceptance of Gifts and Donations

    Adopted by Council: February 2020
    Review Date: Lent Term 2023

    1.   Murray Edwards College was founded on benefaction and to achieve its further strategic objectives it depends on the solicitation and acceptance of further donations (from alumnae, friends, organisations, companies and charitable trusts and foundations) to enable it to achieve its strategic goals. The acceptance of benefactions can give rise to ethical considerations.

    2.   The College is registered with The Fundraising Regulator (FR) which sets out a Code of Practice for fundraising, including standards on accepting, refusing and returning donations. The FR, the Charity Commission and the Institute of Fundraising all highlight the importance of registered charities establishing clear policies and the requirement of trustees to act in the best interests of the charity. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) provides guidelines and principles for UK universities to consider when developing policies and procedures with regard to the criteria that determine whether any particular benefaction should be accepted from any particular benefactor . Reflecting on all the guidelines provided this paper outlines the set of ethical principles under which the College will or will not pursue potential benefactions, and establishes procedures in the case of potentially controversial gifts or donors.

    3.   The following will be considered by Development Office staff in the context of all benefactions proposed or received:

    • Does the potential benefaction fit with the College charitable objects in general and its strategic direction in particular as determined by the College Council from time to time?
    • Would the benefaction require unacceptable application of additional College resources1?
    • Is there published or other credible evidence that the benefaction will be or has been made from a source that arises in whole or in part from an activity that:
      • Evaded taxation or involved fraud?
      • Violated international conventions that bear on human rights?
      • Limited freedom of enquiry?
      • Suppressed or falsified academic research?
      • Was linked in any way to bribery of a member of the College or any other person?
    • Is there evidence that the proposed benefaction, or any of its terms will:
      • Require action that is illegal or non-compliant with Charity Commission guidance?
      • Limit freedom of enquiry?
      • Limit independence or freedom of decision making for the College?
      • Suppress or falsify academic research?
      • Seriously damage the reputation of the College or the University of Cambridge?
      • Create unacceptable conflicts of interest for the College or the University of Cambridge?
      • Harm the College relationship with other benefactors, partners, potential students or research supporters?
    • Is there any question that the identity of the ultimate donor is undisclosed or that the apparent donor is an agent of an undisclosed principal?


    4.   In the event that any of the considerations above give rise to a validated concern, the benefaction will not be accepted by the College. In the case of any gift which has already been received, its return will be pursued after consultation between the Director of Development and the President.

    5.   If any of the considerations above give rise to potential concerns over the receipt of a benefaction the matter will be followed up in the following way.

    6.   The Director of Development is authorised to decide whether any of the above principles are likely to be transgressed for potential gifts with a value of less than £50,000. In the case of potential gifts worth more than £50,000 the Director of Development must, at an early stage in discussions and certainly before an ‘ask’ has been made, seek the President’s advice and guidance and in any event in the case of a benefaction which has already been received and information subsequently comes to light that raises a concern. The President may then decide whether or not further discussion should be pursued with the potential benefactor, or may decide to consult the College Council or the University of Cambridge Committee on Benefactions, Legal and External Affairs (CBELA).

    7.   In complicated cases, where it is not immediately clear what action should be taken and extensive internal consultation is needed, and for all potential gifts with a value of over £500,000, an ad-hoc Ethical Committee for Gift Acceptance will be formed to review the gift. The committee will consist of the President, Vice President, two members of the Council (but not ex-officio members) and the Director of Development in attendance, as required. Information for this committee will be prepared by the Director of Development.

    8.   For all gifts with a value of over £50,000, donors will be asked to sign an appropriate gift agreement to confirm that the decision making, management and governance of programmes funded through the benefaction rest solely with the College. All individual benefactions with a value of over £50,000 will be reported (under reserved business) to the College Council for information. In return the College undertakes that:

    • All communications made to potential donors concerning a project will be honest, truthful, and comply with the law;
    • The donor’s right to privacy will be respected within the limits of the law;
    • The gift will be handled responsibly and to the greatest advantage of the beneficiaries;
    • Any concerns raised in relation to the above points will be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

    9.   Where a donor believes that the College has contravened any of the above principles, s/he should take the objection first to the Director of Development, then to the President if a satisfactory explanation is not forthcoming, who will decide whether further investigation of the alleged breach of ethics is required.

    10.   It is a further principle that any benefaction received by the College in good faith and in accordance with the principles and procedures set forth herein shall have no further influence on the College in relation to the performance of its functions or activities in good faith, impartially and with the proper exercise of trust placed in it.

     (1) For example, if support were offered  to purchase capital assets (building or land), but the College had insufficient resources with which to maintain the running costs associated, the College would be able to justify turning down the offer on practical grounds. Alternatively, if costs of processing a donation exceeded the value (e.g. a donation of a wheelbarrow of penny coins, where the costs associated with counting and processing the coins will outweigh the value of the donation itself), the College would also be able to justify turning down the offer.