Most fundraising professionals are good people trying to do good things. Most fundraising professionals believe they are ethical and, therefore, will routinely choose right over wrong.
However, what do you do when confronted with a situation where there is no clear right or wrong option? What do you do when you encounter a dilemma beyond your experience? What do you say when a donor or board member questions your actions?
That’s where fundraising ethics comes in. Ethical standards help us be the kind of people we want to be. Ethical standards guide us as we navigate fundraising challenges so that we can achieve the best results for our donors, beneficiaries, and organizations.
Unfortunately, many find that the existing fundraising ethics codes in use around the world are inadequate. That’s why Rogare, the fundraising think tank at the Plymouth University Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, has undertaken a major, new ethics project.
Rogare seeks to develop a new normative ethics theory that balances the interests of donors and charity beneficiaries. This will empower us to more consistently make good decisions and take the right actions. That’s good for donors, charity beneficiaries, and nonprofit organizations.
Ethical theories are intended to help us think through how to make better decisions in doing the right thing, and this is what our work at Rogare, with the help of people such as Heather McGinness, is trying to do, particularly to ensure that we do the right thing by our beneficiaries as well as our donors. We need ethical theories to help us make better decisions every day in our lives, precisely because knowing ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ is often such a morally grey area. Fundraising is really no different.”
For example, we can probably agree that we should not tell lies. However, imagine the following scenario: You’re scheduled to meet a wealthy donor for a noon lunch. You arrive at the restaurant early to make sure everything is perfect. At 12:05 PM, the donor has yet to arrive. At 12:10 PM, the donor has not shown up, and you have not received any messages. At 12:15 PM, you begin to wonder if you have the wrong day and begin to get annoyed. Finally, arriving 20 minutes late, the donor comes through the door. After greeting you, the donor says, “I’m sorry I was running late. I hope it’s okay.”
In response to the donor in the scenario I’ve described, you could say, “Well, as a matter of fact, I was becoming annoyed. You know, you could have sent me a text message to let me know you were running late.” Or, to put the donor at ease, you might choose to lie and say with a warm smile, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. I’m fine.” Hmmm, maybe lies are not always bad.
My example is admittedly a bit silly, even simplistic. My point is that things we think are black-and-white don’t always remain such. That’s why ethical frameworks and decision-making models are so important.