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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: May 2023
    Review Date: Easter Term 2026

    1.    Murray Edwards College was founded on benefaction, and to advance the College’s mission and strategic objectives we will seek philanthropic support or sponsorship which is aligned with our values, strategic goals and financial needs, as a legitimate, sustained and vital component of our income.  Such support may be sought and accepted from alumnae, friends, organisations, companies and charitable trusts and foundations.  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 Chartered 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 (1). 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 (2). 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 questions will be considered by Development Office staff in the context of all benefactions proposed or received: 

    • Is the proposed gift or sponsorship consistent with the College’s mission, strategic plan and values, as determined by the College Council?
    • Is the proposed gift or sponsorship in support of or for a current or agreed/approved College activity or project?
    • If there are stipulations attached to the proposed gift or sponsorship, have the implications of accepting these been assessed (e.g., time and resources required for delivering the stipulations) and considered appropriate?
    • By accepting the proposed gift or sponsorship is there a possibility that it will expose or put any College staff or Fellows, students, visitors or other members of the public at serious risk (for example, from protests)?
    • Has the gift or sponsorship or a previous gift or sponsorship from this donor or organisation previously been refused by the College or University for any reason?
    • 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?
      • 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 gift or sponsorship, 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?
      • Lead to an undue and inappropriate third-party influence, or impression of such influence, on institutional decisions of the College?
      • 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?
    • In line with the policy of the University, the College will not accept funding from sources where to do so would be incompatible with its commitment to address climate change through a transition to a zero carbon world. The guidelines agreed by the University Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (CBELA) will apply.


    4.    For all gifts with a value of over £10,000, and any company/corporate donations or sponsorships, the Director of Development will undertake necessary research and due diligence.  The Director of Development is authorised to make an acceptance decision on any gifts where there are no concerns up to the value of £99,999. All gifts at the level of £100,000 and above, of whatever status, will be tabled for discussion by the College Officers.

    If any prospective gift should give rise to potential concerns over its acceptance the procedure to determine a decision is as follows:

    a.    If s/he has any concerns regarding gifts at any level, the Director of Development will, at an early stage in discussions, seek advice from the College Officers.
    b.    The Director of Development may convene a Gift Acceptance Group comprised of the President, Bursar and other senior Fellows, to seek advice.  The Gift Acceptance Group may refer a decision on gift acceptance or decide further discussion should be pursued within a meeting of the College Council. 
    c.    The Gift Acceptance Group may decide to consult an external body for their advice and information which will then be reviewed by the College Council.
    d.    The final decision on gift acceptance where there may be a concern lies with the College Council.

    5.    For all gifts with a value of over £10,000 (and any company/corporate donations or sponsorships), a Gift Agreement will be drawn up which sets out the terms of the gift and its purposes, and the expectations and obligations of both the College and the donor based on the terms of the donation. All individual benefactions with a value of over £2,000 will be included within the Monthly Report from Development and provided (under reserved business) to the College Council for information.