The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession

People join the fundraising profession because they are good folks who want to do good. They want to make the world a better place. That’s why I entered the profession. It’s probably why you did, also. Unfortunately, not all fundraisers are good people. Unfortunately, even good people occasionally do bad things.

Our professional organizations have created ethical codes and standards of professional practice to guide our behavior and to help earn public trust. We even have mechanisms to hold fundraising professionals accountable to those standards.

Now, a local organization has attracted national attention, but not in a good way. It’s a story that tests the integrity of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, CFRE International, and the entire fundraising profession. It’s a story that will ultimately reveal whether or not we are willing to hold fundraisers accountable. It’s a test of whether our ethics codes and professional standards are merely nice words on paper or whether they truly help define fundraising as a profession.

The story I am referring to involves the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. I won’t repeat the entire story here. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has already done some excellent reporting on the matter, and I’ll provide links at the end. For now, I’ll just take a moment to summarize the reports.

Former employees of the Foundation “accuse Mari Ellen Loijens, the Foundation’s top fundraiser, of engaging in emotionally abusive and sexually inappropriate behavior.” The Chronicle further states:

The Chronicle article, based on several months of interviews with 19 former employees, raised questions about the leadership of Loijens, who oversaw fundraising at the community foundation. While many say she deserves credit for helping raise significant sums at Silicon Valley — which at $13.5 billion in assets is larger than Ford or Rockefeller — former employees said she demeaned and bullied her staff, made lewd comments in the workplace, and on at least one occasion sought to kiss a woman working for her.”

Two days before The Chronicle published its findings, Emmett Carson, Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation, announced that an internal investigation of the allegations is being “conducted by Sarah Hall, a Washington, DC, based senior counsel at Thompson Hine and a former federal prosecutor.” According to The Chronicle, “The Foundation said in a statement that the ‘investigation into alleged incidents of misconduct will continue, and at the conclusion of that investigation SVCF will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of our organization.’”

On April 19, 2018, a day after The Chronicle published its report, the Foundation confirmed that Loijens had resigned.

On April 26, 2018, The Chronicle reported that the Foundation’s Board placed Carson on indefinite, paid administrative leave. Greg Avis, a founding Board member and former Board Chair, has been appointed interim CEO. The investigation continues and has been expanded.

On May 2, 2018, Silicon Valley Business Journal reported that Daiva Natochy, the Foundation’s Vice President for Talent, Recruitment and Culture, has resigned.

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation has many issues. The allegations of bullying and sexual harassment leveled against Loijens are just part of the problem. However, Loijens alleged behavior is not just a problem for the Foundation; it is a challenge for the fundraising profession as well.

Loijens behavior, if true, could be construed as a violation of the AFP Code of Ethical Standards. Specifically, Loijens alleged behavior appears to be in conflict with the following provisions, at a minimum:

Standard 1 — “Members shall not engage in activities that harm the members’ organizations, client or profession or knowingly bring the profession into disrepute.”

Standard 4 — “Members shall not exploit any relationship with a donor, prospect, volunteer, client or employee for the benefit of the members or the members’ organizations.”

AFP requires its members to comply with the Code of Ethical Standards. Failure to comply can subject violators to a variety of sanctions including expulsion from AFP. Loijens is a current member of AFP.

When I spoke with Mike Geiger, President and CEO of AFP, he stated that the organization opposes any behavior that denigrates people. Indeed, AFP’s core values include the ideas that fundraisers should aspire to “practice their profession with integrity, honesty, truthfulness and adherence to the absolute obligation to safeguard the public trust,” and to “foster cultural diversity and pluralistic values and treat all people with dignity and respect.”

Embracing those values, AFP is currently in the process of developing anti-sexual harassment education materials as part of its library of educational offerings for members and non-members.

Regarding the Loijens issue, Geiger says that he is aware of the situation and is monitoring it. He added that AFP stringently enforces the Code of Ethical Standards, and treats all ethical inquiries and complaints as strictly confidential up to the point where someone is removed as a member, an action that would be made public.

To learn about the AFP procedure for filing a formal complaint alleging a violation of the Code of Ethical Standards, click here, and go to page 38. AFP members, as well as non-members, may file a complaint. You will find a copy of the official AFP Complaint Form on page 39.

In addition to being a member of AFP, Loijens is also a Certified Fund-Raising Executive. When I contacted Eva E. Aldrich, President and CEO of CFRE International, she stated, “Clearly, CFRE International does not condone the alleged behavior attributed to Ms. Loijens and considers the alleged behavior to be categorically unacceptable.”

CFRE International requires certificants to adhere to high standards of professional practice and “perform their duties in an effective, conscientious, ethical, and professional manner.” Those who violate the International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising may be reprimanded, or have their certification suspended, or have their certification revoked.

Among its provisions, the International Statement states, “Fundraisers shall at all times act with respect for the dignity of their profession and their organisation.”

To learn about the CFRE International complaint procedure, click here. Once the organization receives a complaint, it will investigate and take the action it deems appropriate. Anyone may file a complaint.

AFP and CFRE International have contributed enormously to the fundraising field, helping to transform it from a vocation to a profession. These organizations have enshrined essential values and appropriate standards of conduct for our profession. However, words alone are insufficient. From time-to-time, enforcement action is necessary.

In the past, when various state governments have toyed with the idea of requiring the licensure of fundraisers, AFP argued that such a move would be an unnecessary government overreach. AFP argued that the fundraising profession maintained a Code of Ethical Standards and could police itself. I know. I served on the AFP US Government Relations Committee, and I was one of the people to make that point.

To continue to justify the public trust and to continue to avoid state licensure requirements, we as a profession must demonstrate our willingness to call out and punish bad behavior. AFP and CFRE International have done so quietly in the past. However, given the high-profile nature of the Loijens situation, AFP and CFRE International must review the case, take appropriate action, and publicly disclose the actions taken, or not, along with an explanation.

If Loijens does not resign her membership in AFP and does not forfeit her CFRE credential, honorable fundraisers should step forward to file formal complaints to initiate the formal AFP and CFRE International review processes.

If professional fundraisers fail to act, the entire fundraising profession will become complicit with those who embrace the dark side of fundraising. Furthermore, if we’re not seen as self-policing, we open the door for others to step-in with licensure requirements to hold the profession accountable.

As I prepared to write this post, I attempted to contact Loijens. However, like The Chronicle, I received no comment.

As a former newspaper editor and fundraising professional, I applaud The Chronicle for its fine reporting on the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

To read The Chronicle’s initial story, click here.

For The Chronicle’s story about the Loijens resignation, click here.

For The Chronicle’s report on Carson’s placement on administrative leave, click here.

So, will you be the one to file an official complaint?

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

16 Responses to “The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession”

  1. Because of the recent kerfuffle about #metoo in the non-profit world, it is important to note that this was a woman accused of sexual misconduct. It’s not just a male problem.

    • Roger, thank you for your comment and for being the first person to ever use the word “kerfuffle” while commenting here. Regarding sexual harassment in the nonprofit sector, you correct. While men are most often the perpetrators (96 percent of the time), they are not the exclusive perpetrators. Sexual harassment is a problem of power.

  2. Appreciate the thorough review of the situation we are witnessing with respect to the SVCF and how the violations point to the links to AFP and CFRE International standards.

  3. This is a good and timely article, Michael, thank you. Unfortunately, I saw instances of this on display when I worked on the voluntary health side of the business, especially at national meetings. Young, female staff around too much alcohol and some predatory national level volunteers who feel untouchable due to their status. Fortunately, most staff, especially the older managers watched out for the younger staff, but that should not have to be the case. Better board training and volunteer accountability was and, unfortunately, still is needed.

    • Michael, thank you for commenting and sharing what you’ve seen. The first step in dealing with a problem is to acknowledge the problem. If anything good can come from the high-profile situation at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, perhaps it’s that it has contributed to a sector-wide conversation about sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and workplace bullying.

  4. Hi Michael, I tend to agree that AFP and CFRE should act. But since in the U.S. we are presumed innocent until proven guilty, shouldn’t they wait until the investigation is complete?

    And how in the world is this the “dark side” of fundraising? This sounds like workplace issue, not fundraising specific…

    • Marc, thank you for commenting. You’re quite correct when you suggest that the presumption of innocence is a core American value that we should respect. That’s why I have not recommended that Mari Ellen Loijens be kicked-out of AFP and have her CFRE revoked. What I have called for is a formal review process by AFP and CFRE International. As part of that process, I would hope that the those organizations would conduct their own investigations and consider the results of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s own investigation, if that report is released. This all means that the process will take time. That’s fine. Careful consideration of the situation should take time to help ensure a just outcome. A rush to judgment would not be appropriate. However, the review process should begin.

      You also mentioned that I’ve described a “workplace issue.” Yes, you are certainly correct on that point. In addition, because we’re talking about a chief development officer at a foundation, it is also an issue involving the fundraising community. There’s a tendency by some to believe that those who work in the nonprofit sector are doing good work for society and, therefore, must be good people who always behave as good people. By using the term “dark side of fundraising,” I sought to help people understand that the fundraising community is not immune to the problems of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and bullying. It’s easy to think of these problems as existing elsewhere but not in our nonprofit sector. I chose my words to bring the spotlight to our sector and to show that these problems are universal. So, yes, this is not a fundraising specific issue. But, it is an issue that fundraisers must face.

      • Just seeing your reply. Thank you.

        While I respect your work, I still remain saddened at the sensational tone of the title. Experiences of media hostility – like that in the wake of Olive Stone’s death – have shone a light on fundraising. We are definitely not above reproach. But we’re not the evil people that are dunning people to death either.

        To use a term like “the dark side of fundraising” seems to point to something fundraising specific. Which I don’t see you write about. This is in fundraising and needs to be exposed. But fundraisers hardly hold the monopoly on this.

        I believe we both are motivated out of our respect and concern for the profession. I’m amazed at how that passion can at times be so oppositely expressed.

      • Marc, thank you for taking the time to share your additional thoughts. I don’t disagree with you. My headline was intentionally sensational in order to attract readers. More mild headlines in previous posts about similar subject matter have failed to attract the same level of readership. By the way, it worked. As people actually read the article, I’m sure they came away with an understanding that the problems I addressed are not representative of the entire nonprofit sector nor are they problems unique to the nonprofit sector. Because I respect you, I regret that you feel my headline was inappropriate. However, I’m glad that we are otherwise on the same page. Thank you for giving me something to think about as I consider future headlines.

  5. Michael, thank you for this. I agree that ethical codes are only effective if we enforce them. Further, if we want to be respected as professionals, we have to insist on consequences when our peers act unethically rather than allowing ourselves to be painted with the same brush.


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