In my field, computer science, employers offer referral bonuses of a few thousand dollars to employees who refer successful job candidates who go on to work at that company. My spouse works at a company that an alumnus would like to apply to. So do several alumnae and a former professor who has taught that student. I used to work there too.
Is it ethical for me to tell the student (truthfully) that, if he applies through my spouse and gets hired, we will donate the bonus to the college? I would also tell him (truthfully) that I would submit an equally enthusiastic recommendation letter and help him prepare for interviews no matter who he chooses to refer him.
My ethical concern is that the student might feel pressured by my implying I would like him to apply through my husband and fear that I would not help him as much if he did not. I could partly alleviate that concern by writing the recommendation letter first and giving it to the former professor at the company to submit after anyone has referred the candidate. Is that enough?
I asked an alumna at the company (rather than my husband) to refer the student and donate any referral bonus. She cheerfully agreed and coached him on interviewing. The candidate had no problem with being referred by an alumna (or by my spouse) and appreciated the coaching, although he ended up working for another company.
I think going through someone other than my spouse reduced the appearance of a conflict of interest all around (including to the company, to which I would have submitted a letter of reference).