Are You Doing Something Wrong Without Even Knowing It?

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.

rights-stuff-cover-from-rogare(Toward the end of this post, I’ll tell you how you can get two FREE white papers that explore the ethics issue in greater detail.)

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.

Ian MacQuillin, Director of Rogare, explained it this way on The Agitator blog:

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.

Okay, now it’s time for the FREE stuff.

I thank Rogare for recognizing that the subject of fundraising ethics is a vital issue for the nonprofit sector and society in general. I applaud Rogare for launching its ethics project and for publishing The Rights Stuff, the first white paper to come from its ethics project. I encourage you to download a FREE copy by clicking here.

I also thank Rogare for citing my own paper about fundraising ethics. I’m proud to have been part of the fundraising profession’s conversations about ethics, and I appreciate being recognized for one of my contributions to the discussion. You can download my paper by clicking here.

Moving forward, the great challenges facing Rogare will be not only to develop a new normative fundraising ethics theory but to get that theory and new ethical decision-making models adopted and used. Let’s face it. Our profession is much more interested in how-to discussions than philosophical ones. Don’t believe me? All you have to do is go to a fundraising conference and see which sessions get the biggest crowds (assuming there’s even an ethics session on the schedule).

The reality is that Rogare cannot address the fundraising ethics challenges for us. Rogare can certainly help, but we’ll need to exert some effort as well. Every fundraiser needs to think about our professional ethics. We need to study fundraising ethics. We need to join conversations about fundraising ethics. We should not abdicate to others. Rogare can lead, but we must be engaged. The subject of fundraising ethics is entirely too important.

If we strive to be more ethical, there will be less of a call for government regulation of the nonprofit sector. Furthermore, we’ll build stronger relationships with donors that will help us raise more money for our organizations which will allow us to better serve the beneficiaries of our organizations. If that’s not enough of a reason to download the ethics papers I’ve referenced, here’s another bit of inspiration:

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” — Mark Twain

Choose to be astonishing!

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

4 Comments to “Are You Doing Something Wrong Without Even Knowing It?”

  1. Thank you. I like this. The last job I worked for a charity; sadly, I found it did not tell the truth to people. The minute I found out, I quit.

  2. Thanks for the important word. I know you’ve stated that your example was simplistic. But let me suggest that, when we act with emotional / spiritual maturity, we can avoid a lie in this situation. Indeed, the donor was late, but the donor is wealthy and we want to do business with him. Tardiness has become an inconvenience to us, but the donor’s arrival means we are back on track (far better than a total no-show situation!) So, we suck it up, and our words become truth as they leave our lips– everything IS OK. We have an opportunity to do what we do as fundraisers. (And we will be in a far better position to be successful, IF we TRULY have ‘told the truth’, and have allowed that truth to become our reality.)

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