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Tainted Donations: Can you do good with bad money?

In this episode we explore the long history of concerns that some money may be “tainted”, and ask what this means for philanthropy now and in the future. Including:

  • The history of tainted donations, featuring: St Augustine of Hippo, The Venerable Bede, St Thomas Aquinas, The Paris Guild of Prostitutes, Frederick Douglass, George Cadbury, George Bernard Shaw, The Salvation Army, J. D. Rockefeller, Mark Twain and G.K. Chesterton.
  • Is a donation only tainted if the method of wealth creation is ethical questionable, or can it be tainted by association becasue a donor is problematic for some other reason?
  • How have views about what kinds of wealth creation are or aren’t ethically acceptable changed over time?
  • Is there a statute of limitations of any kind on tainted money, so that after a certain period of time it is deemed OK despite any problematic connections?
  • Is it enough to acknowledge when wealth is based on past injustices such as slavery, or do active reparations need to be made? How does this work in practice?
  • Should we distinguish between critiques of individual tainted donations and systemic critiques of wealth and capitalism as a whole?
  • Who decides whether a donation is tainted?
  • Is it better to take tainted money if the charitable activity being funded addresses the ethical concerns arising from the wealth? (E.g. using money from the gambling industry to address gambling addiction). Or does this increase the chance of reputation laundering?
  • Does acceptance of a gift in reality always imply condoning the source of wealth?
  • Are concerns about tainted donations greater when the donor is getting recognition for the gift? Would it be better if such gifts were entirely anonymous?
  • Is it more acceptable to accept money from a tainted source if no strings are attached? Is this another argument for core cost funding?
  • Is new technology bringing new challenges when it comes to identifying and assessing the sources of donations?

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Learn from our past to better understand our future.

Philanthropy has a long and varied history. We’ve created bite-size chapters that you can jump in and out of to better understand philanthropy.