AFP Condemns Vaccine Line-Skipping for Funders, Donors

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), has condemned hospital and other nonprofit staffers who provide coronavirus vaccinations to major donors and board members ahead of their appropriate time. While access criteria to the vaccines varies depending on the state or municipality, most prioritize recipients based on their age, pre-existing medical conditions or presence on the frontlines of pandemic response.

But there have been many reports alleging valuable donors or backers to healthcare nonprofits have received the vaccine ahead of schedule, and on Tuesday Michael Geiger, president & chief executive officer of the Arlington, Va., association took a hard stance against the practice.

“The idea of hospital systems, or any charity, ignoring protocols, guidance or restrictions — regardless of origin — and offering certain donors and board members the opportunity to ‘skip the line’ and receive vaccinations ahead of their scheduled time is antithetical to the values of philanthropy and ethical fundraising,” Geiger said via a statement.

The problem is widespread, according to multiple sources. The Associated Press reported Rhode Island-based hospital systems Lifespan and Care New England offered board members vaccines. Members of the Stormont Vail Health board in Kansas allegedly were given vaccines at a time when initial doses were earmarked for nursing home residents and healthcare workers. And teachers and staff within the Los Gatos Union School District were offered vaccine ahead of people older than 65 and healthcare workers. That offer was made in recognition of district members having raised funds that provided 3,500 meals for frontline workers at two healthcare facilities.

The Seattle Times showcased an even more seemingly excessive transgression, when it reported the chief development officer at Overlake Medical Center & Clinics emailed donors who had given more than $10,000 to its Eastside hospital system. According to the invitation-only email, these major donors could take advantage of set-aside doses. The offer was suspended after a call from staffers within Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office is investigating claims that MorseLife Health System, which operates a nursing home in West Palm Beach, offered vaccines to board members and longtime donors, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

And Hunterdon Medical Center, Flemington, N.J., came under fire after it administered shots to two dozen high-worth donors and individuals related to medical center personnel in December and January, at a time when only nursing home residents and healthcare workers were supposed to be receiving the shots, according to NJ Advance Media.

Geiger noted the practice violates several points from the AFP’s Code of Ethics, including one prohibition against members engaging in activities that harm their organizations, clients or profession or knowingly bring the profession into disrepute and another that bans members from participating in activities that conflict with their fiduciary, ethical and legal obligations to their organizations, clients or profession.

Geiger acknowledged that in some cases, skipping the line or helping others skip the line might be in violation of a provision requiring members to comply with all civil and criminal laws.

Geiger recognized the critical nature of donors and members to organizations and the need to recognize them for their impact. But it also stressed the responsibility organizations have to the people and communities who benefit from their programs, and the expectation that these programs will be meted out fairly.

“Offering vaccinations to major donors, and not to populations with the greatest need, violates these expectations and responsibilities and destroys public trust — to say nothing of the possible impact on constituents of the charity who don’t receive the appropriate vaccinations or medical attention in time,” Geiger said in the statement.

“This activity — allowing wealthy and privileged donors to gain access to vaccinations at the expense of others who have fewer resources — also perpetuates already staggering inequities in our society,” Geiger continued. “We are only just beginning to address these issues as a society through various movements and the resulting discussions about fairness, justice and equality. This is especially concerning as philanthropy has been — and should continue to be — not a perpetuator of inequity, but rather a great ‘democratizer’ for our society, bringing people of all backgrounds together to rally around a cause.”

Geiger stopped short of delineating specific sanctions or other punishments that might be brought against individuals from member organizations who are found to have violated its ethical standards. Instead, he condemned the practice and called on those in positions of influence to deliver vaccines in a fair and equitable manner in accordance with procedures set by the Center for Disease Control and other government entities.