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Ethics Corner

This is an online resource for ethical questions and answers as they relate to fundraising and planned giving. The NCGPC posts real questions from real people and Doug White answers them. All identities, both of people and places, are kept confidential.

Terry Simmons

This past month we lost one of the great moral forces in planned giving.

Although, to be true, for Terry Simmons we don’t need “in planned giving” in that sentence.

It would be impossible to overstate the positive influence Terry had on our careers and on our lives. Even those who never met him, or before now had ever heard his name, are deeply indebted to a man with no equal in our profession. In the wake of an accident that created such unbearable pain for so many years on a man as good as Terry Simmons, to say nothing of a lifetime far too short, we are now left with the memory and the legacy.

Many of Terry’s significant accomplishments are recounted in his obituary*. He was a giant in the legal industry and a founder in 1988 of the National Committee on Planned Giving (the forerunner of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners). He received the NCPG Distinguished Service Award in 1996, as Barb Yeager reminded us a few weeks ago, "For tireless advocacy of philanthropy in the state and federal legislatures, leadership in defending charitable gift planning against serious threats and abuses, and commitment to advancing the gift planning profession."

Those words are about how he pretty much single-handedly saved our profession in the 1990s, when — through Charitable Accord, which he founded — he tirelessly fought to win a federal lawsuit against those who would destroy gift annuities, as well as other important actions undertaken by charities, while at the same time promoting legislation to protect charities that unanimously passed in the Texas state legislature and in Congress. He won in court and he won the hearts of lawmakers. I use no words blithely, and so I mean it when I say “tirelessly.” I, among several others, was there at Charitable Accord to see with my own eyes his indefatigability — his love of humankind.

For the foreword of my book, The Art of Planned Giving, which, more than even I recognized when I wrote it in 1996 was an effort to examine planned giving through an ethical lens, he wrote, “To give to further a charitable cause is an act of love toward humanity. The reality of that truth is occasionally apparent, but more often is shrouded and hidden by the experiences of a lifetime. But unless we can master that truth and all its complexities, all of the technical knowledge and all of the fundraising skills that one can possess will fall short of the goal we each should aspire to: being a successful planned giving professional.”

Terry was the ethical North Star of planned giving. His efforts resulted in the Model Standards of Practice for the Charitable Gift Planner. Further, he constantly brought to life the principles embedded in those standards. He is by my side every time I write an Ethics Corner column.

It is true that Terry is already sorely missed, and always will be, but it is also true that he will always be with us.

As Terry loved American history, I am prompted to think, although not nearly so eloquently, of how Abraham Lincoln might put it: We cannot properly hallow Terry’s memory and so it falls upon us, the living, to be dedicated to the unfinished work, which he so nobly advanced, of loving humankind. If we can so dedicate ourselves, Terry will know his legacy is making a difference.

*Aria Funeral Home:

Doug WhiteDoug's Bio

Doug White, a long-time leader in the nation's philanthropic community, is an author, professor, and an advisor to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists. He is the director of Columbia University's Master of Science in Fundraising Management program. He also teaches board governance, ethics and fundraising. He is the former academic director of New York University's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.

His most recent book, “Abusing Donor Intent,” chronicles the historic lawsuit brought against Princeton University by the children of Charles and Marie Robertson, the couple who donated $35 million in 1961 to endow the graduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School. The family contended that Princeton abused its mandate to spend the money as the donors wished - and as the university agreed to. His three other books are: "The Nonprofit Challenge: Integrating Ethics into the Purpose and Promise of Our Nation's Charities" (2010, Palgrave Macmillan), "Charity on Trial: What You Need to Know Before You Give" (2007, Barricade Books), and "The Art of Planned Giving: Understanding Donors and the Culture of Giving" (1996, John Wiley & Sons), which was awarded the 1996 Staley/Robeson/Ryan/St. Lawrence Prize for Research by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He has written several articles for a variety of magazines and periodicals, including Trusts and Estates, the Journal of Gift Planning, Charitable Gift Planning News, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Since 1979 Doug has advised hundreds of charities of all types and sizes. Today, he works closely with select organizations on ethics decision-making, board governance, and fundraising, as well as with individual philanthropists who want to see their gifts used most effectively.

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Doug has worked as the development director at Holderness School (NH), and has served as a trustee at several charities. For almost two decades (1982 – 2000) he served on the Capital Giving Committee at Phillips Exeter Academy and as its national chair for several years during that time. He has served in leading roles with two national planned gift and endowment investment firms. As a long-term consultant to Blackbaud, Inc. in the 1980s and 1990s, he developed one of the first planned giving software programs.

In 1995 Doug testified before a Congressional committee in support of the Philanthropy Protection Act, and served as an expert witness for the charitable defendants in a national lawsuit - the "Texas Lawsuit" - that threatened the ability of charities to raise money.

Doug is a past member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (formerly the National Committee on Planned Giving). In 1996, while on the NCPG board, he founded the national initiative of Leave A Legacy. He is also a past chair of the NCPG Ethics Committee and the 1995 NCPG National Conference. He is a past president of the Planned Giving Group of New England and a past president of the New Hampshire/Vermont chapter of AFP. In 2002 the National Capital Gift Planning Council presented Doug with its Distinguished Service Award.

Since 1981 he has spoken at over 800 conferences on philanthropy, including the Association for Fundraising Professionals, The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, United Jewish Communities, and hundreds of local professional organizations and planned giving councils, as well as many audiences sponsored by local charities and other groups.

Ethics Corner Archive

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How Does it Work?

Emails are sent to e-list members with a teaser about the ethical question of the month with a link to the site. Readers are encouraged to submit a question to Doug and/or to disagree with his opinion on the question.

Why Should You Read Ethics Corner posts?

The primary objective is to establish and grow an ethics-based dialogue about important issues facing gift planners and other fundraisers at charities today.

Doug, a teacher of ethics and philanthropy at Columbia University, states that, "Based on the queries I receive, it is clear that those who have worked in this field, even those who have served charities for many years, have too few places to go to discuss issues that are not covered by legislation or the IRS. This site is meant to address that need."

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As ethical decision-making is more of a journey than a destination, we encourage readers' comments and will post representative reactions and opposing responses to the columns. Please send your comments by email ( Be sure you include the topic.

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