Integrity Matters
September 20, 2006

There is no excuse for rudeness

Question: (E-258)

Dear Jim:

While attending a silent auction, I was the top bidder on a piece of art, writing my name as the final count down was closing. A charity official was present, approving and certifying my offer. The person who lost was very upset and began to make a scene accusing me of cheating him. The rest of the night he followed my wife and me, telling seemingly everyone how I had robbed and cheated him. We chose to ignore his antics and move on. Three days later he called my wife at her business looking for me. I phone him and was called "thief," "rat," etc. He is a lawyer, and his wife a member of the charity's board of directors. I assume he used his influence to obtain our personal information to continue harassing us. Two integrity questions: Do charities have any obligation to protect a donor's personal information? Have we become a nation of arrogant poor sports?


Yes, protecting donor privacy rights ought to be standard operating procedure. My advisor, a nonprofit CEO, was very clear about organizational accountability, possibility liability, when she heard of your unpleasant encounter. She stated: "Other than reporting laws requiring record-keeping, information about donors is kept private unless specific consent has been given."

Discretion and professionalism are hallmarks of organizations that value donors. To underscore your desire to avoid any future unpleasant situations, let the charities of your choice know your expectations, up front, in writing.

Arrogant poor sports are not unique to charitable events.

Bullies can be male or female, young or old. Unfortunately, our frequently overly-tolerant society rewards those who intimidate with disproportionately high amounts of pleasure, wealth, fame and power. Your circumstances were complicated, so it appears, by the immature response of an angry man who turned a simple disappointment into a challenge to his macho identity.

His abusive tactics demonstrated no integrity.

Ugly behaviors, like what you describe, occur way too often.

Good-hearted individuals want to give and enjoy seeing and feeling the impact of their generosity.

Making sure all participants know how to behave supportively and graciously in public events is a positive step. Erosion of civil behavior, even when folks are decked out in their finery, will soil the most elegant of events and besmirch the image of the charity being supported. Children are (or at least used to be) disciplined when they did not play well with others. Sounds like your "fellow bidder" left his manners at home and needs a good talking to - soon.

Leaders of integrity-centered organizations, including charities, establish and enforce clear donation and bidding rules, motivating and retaining valuable supporters.

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