THE BLOG
09/15/2014 05:21 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

Turning Away Donations From "Bad Donors"

Whenever something happens in the nonprofit sector, we all have the opportunity to gather info, reflect and wonder what we would have done. This is actually true of all things in life, but especially on the Internet, where we are constant witnesses to things about which we might otherwise never become aware.

Like a giant cache of nude photos, stolen from the online accounts of numerous celebrities, who thought their personal and private images were safe.

Celebrities are people too, and while this is often easy to dismiss, somehow the well-loved, girl-next-door-ness of Jennifer Lawrence is helping most people remember in this instance. And that's a good thing.

There are a lot of conversations being born of this hacking incident - the safety of files and images stored on the Internet, the wisdom of storing nude photos (or anything you wouldn't want to fall into the wrong hands) in the Cloud, and the question of the right to privacy, and how much celebrities are expected to give up once famous, among them.

But for our purposes, the big question related to this "photo leak" is this: When is it okay to turn away a sizeable donation to your organization?

Generosity With a Side of Guilt

For those who haven't followed the story, over 100 celebrity accounts were hacked via a possible flaw in Apple's iCloud service, with nude photos from the accounts then posted to the site 4chan. From there, anyone who wanted to could view and share the images, which naturally is what happened.

As a statement by Jennifer Lawrence's team indicates, "The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos," and the FBI is involved. But of course, the Internet is a place where anonymity reigns, so tracking the users and removing all traces of the photos is challenging, if not impossible.

Social media platforms like Twitter have stood behind these women, suspending the accounts of users who have shared the images. But there is always another place to share. And not all platforms are as quick to shut down questionable user activity. I'm talking about Reddit.

On Reddit, a subreddit called "The Fappening" shared the stolen photos, and Reddit didn't care much - until copyright violation messages started pouring in. At that point they deleted the forum, but only because the threat of legal action was looming.

Once shut down, a member of the The Fappening seemed to have a case of conscience, and decided to raise funds for a cause Jennifer Lawrence is alleged to have supported, the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Other members donated "in honor of JLaw," and they raised over $6000 for the cause. But when it became clear where the money had come from, the PCF returned the donation.

The Fappening made a second attempt at easing their guilt by initiating a new fundraiser for Water.org. They were turned away again.

Part of the statement the PCF released on their site read, "We would never condone raising funds for cancer research in this manner. Out of respect for everyone involved and in keeping with our own standards, we are returning all donations that resulted from this post."

And it's hard to disagree with that stance, though members of the subreddit certainly have. According to The Daily Mail, one user said, "They are literally saying that Jennifer Lawrence is more important than a cure for cancer." But of course, it's not that simple.

High Standards Are Not Negotiable

Fundraising is such an important part of what we do, but it's never easy. Our organizations rely on great numbers of compassionate people giving generously to fund our endeavors, and accomplishing that requires an impeccable public reputation.

Transparency is a must, and we can't allow funds that come from questionable sources to turn off all of the other donors we've spent so much time building relationships with.

Or can we?

What would have happened if either of the two organizations in question had chosen to keep the funds? What if they had decided that cancer research and clean water were in fact more important than taking a moral stand against stolen property and voyeurism?

Maybe nothing, but the risk of alienating those who trust the organizations to exercise good judgment on all fronts was simply too high. I suppose the bottom line is to be sure your nonprofit has a clear moral code, and then stand by it, as these two did.

Is There a Place For Reddit in the Nonprofit Toolbox?

It is important to remember that The Fappening is not Reddit. While Reddit may be considered a bit of a black sheep in the family of major social media platforms, especially when compared to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc., it's not all bad.

According to Allison Fine, author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, in an email to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Where Reddit is great is raising an issue or concern, gathering some momentum for it that then transfers to Facebook or Twitter, where organizations are more comfortable engaging."

In other words, don't write them off just yet, because just like any other large online community, there's huge fundraising potential if you are willing to embrace it. Here are just a few noteworthy Reddit campaigns:

• $700,000 raised for Karen Klein, a bullied bus monitor who was able to retire and start the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation
• $80,000 to secure a Kenyan orphanage after a brutal break-in
• Almost $200,000 for Doctors Without Borders
• $100,000 for Stephen Colbert's DonorsChoose - which broke the site's fundraising record previously held by Hillary Clinton

Those are numbers not to be ignored - and Reddit certainly isn't either. Recognizing the generous spirit of its users, Reddit has tried to encourage philanthropy by creating official channels for giving through its partnerships with crowdfunding platform Tilt and ecommerce tool Dwolla.

The social media forum also said it would donate 10 percent of its 2014 ad revenue to a user-chosen charity.

So it's clear that Reddit wants to embrace this aspect of its community, which means it's offering something that could be very valuable to us in the nonprofit sector - if we're open to it.

Our sector is not one that is known for taking risks, so it's not surprising that we have largely steered clear of Reddit because there's something scary about the anonymity the forum encourages.

But we may have to make peace with the concept of anonymity one way or the other soon enough, as Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z are much less privacy-aware as a whole, which means the Internet is moving more toward that dynamic whether we like it or not.

Even the Prostate Cancer Foundation isn't going to judge Reddit by this one experience, according to Barbara Parsky, senior adviser to the president of the Prostate Cancer Foundation."Each individual circumstance is just that--individual. We are in no way against social media. It's a very useful channel for distribution."

So it's time to get ahead of the curve and consider adding Reddit to our fundraising arsenals. The new Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) app could be the perfect way to get our feet wet. What if we offered users the opportunity to ask us anything about our causes or organizations?

Reddit has the potential to make something go #IceBucketChallenge viral, as long as we're willing to give it a chance - while keeping our moral codes intact.