Posts tagged ‘AFP Code of Ethics’

March 9, 2021

Shocking Fundraising Behavior from Nonprofits Captures Media Attention

Nonprofit hospitals across the country have made disturbing news headlines recently. Sadly, while medical staff continue to provide heroic patient care, many of the recent news stories deal with unethical fundraising behavior that puts all nonprofits at risk. Consider these two items:

  • Hospitals across the country have given major donors special, early access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • In a story unrelated to the coronavirus, one hospital fundraising office has offered medical staff bonuses for referring “Grateful Patient” prospects.

While those news items involve healthcare organizations, all charities should be concerned. Let me explain. When some nonprofits behave badly, it reflects on the entire nonprofit sector with the potential to erode public trust and, therefore, support. There is ample research, as well as anecdotal evidence, that reveals that the fundraising efforts of virtuous charities can be harmed by the unethical behavior of unrelated nonprofit organizations.

Let’s look more closely at what has occurred recently:

MAJOR DONORS GIVEN EARLY ACCESS TO VACCINE

Initial excitement over the release of COVID-19 vaccines has given way to frustration as only 18 percent of the US population has received the first dose with confusing sign-up procedures and long lines greeting many people.

“But one group has gotten a head start in receiving the coveted shots: people who’ve donated money to hospitals distributing the vaccine,” according to a report in MarketWatch.

Ethical_Decision_Making_Article.28164930 AFP statement major donor vaccinations Feb 2021 final AFP Statement Grateful Patient Fundraising March 2021 final According to reports, hospitals across the nation have been giving favorable treatment to major donors including Storment Vail Health (Kansas), Overlake Medical Center (Washington), Hunterdon Medical Center (New Jersey), MaineGeneral Health (Maine), and Garnet Health (New York).

Authorities in New York have launched a probe into Garnet’s actions to determine if any laws were broken. While evaluating whether or not laws were broken, it is important for us to also consider whether the actions of Garnet and other hospitals are ethical or unethical.

“As we see numerous reports of line jumping and favoritism, any situation that could lead to distrust in the fairness of the vaccine allocation process needs to be proactively managed. Redeploying staff to help with vaccination is reasonable, but care should have been taken to avoid [MaineGeneral Health] fundraising staff connecting with prior donors on this,” Holly Fernandez Lynch, an ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told the Bangor Daily News.

The Bangor Daily News added, “Medical ethicists said there were many good reasons for MaineGeneral and other hospitals to test processes before opening wider clinics, but even well-intended efforts involving philanthropy staff and donors can be seen negatively.”

Medical ethicists weren’t the only ones to weigh-in on the situation. The Association of Fundraising Professionals, the largest community of charities and fundraisers in the world, has released the following statement from President and CEO Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA:

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….[emphasis added]

Offering vaccinations to major donors, and not to populations with the greatest need … 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.…

AFP, and the 26,000 members in our community around the world who represent nearly every charitable cause imaginable, condemn this activity in the strongest manner possible. It is unethical and inequitable, and we call on all health systems and all providers of vaccinations to deliver this service in a manner that is fair and equitable for the people they serve and consistent with procedures developed by the Centers for Disease Control and all applicable levels of government.”

Some hospitals around the country have behaved unethically, violated the law, or both. However, even those who may have a legitimate explanation for their actions and who have done nothing wrong may still be giving the appearance of having done something unethical involving their interactions with major donors. That’s still a big problem. As the AFP Code of Ethical Standards states clearly:

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October 29, 2019

Raise More Money When You Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Fundraising

Fundraising success depends on having a good cause. It also requires that fundraisers do things the right way. But, none of that is enough. To successfully raise money, fundraisers must also avoid making costly mistakes, either unknowingly or (and you would never do this, right?) knowingly.

Making mistakes can cause your organization to lose donors and have a difficult time finding new ones. In some cases, one charity’s mistakes can harm the reputation of the entire nonprofit sector causing even innocent organizations to lose support.

Philanthropy researchers have shown us that the more someone trusts a nonprofit organization, the more likely they are to give. Furthermore, the more they trust a charity, the more money they are likely to donate. A report issued by Independent Sector stated:

The public is demanding a greater demonstration of ethical behavior by all of our institutions and leaders ….To the extent the public has doubts about us, we shall be less able to fulfill our public service.”

In short, trust affects both propensity for giving and the amount given. Those who have a high confidence in charities as well as believe in their honesty and ethics give an average annual contribution of about 50 percent more than the amount given by those sharing neither opinion.

You can read more about the research into trust and philanthropy in an article I wrote a number of years ago for the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing.

For the Association of Fundraising Professionals Ethics Awareness Month,  I wrote a feature article for the October issue of Advancing Philanthropy magazine: “Ethics, Fundraising, and Leadership: Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Fundraising.” As I pointed out:

You’re a good person. At the very least, you try to be a good person.

However, that’s not good enough. Effective fundraising demands more of us. Every action we take, no matter how small or large, has the potential to build or erode public trust, which could have a corresponding impact on philanthropic support.

Among other things, being a fundraising professional means you must always strive for excellence while avoiding missteps that could have costly consequences for you and/or your organization. Fortunately, you do not have to endure risky mistakes to learn from them. Instead, thanks to media headlines, you can learn from the mistakes of others.”

In the AFP article, I discuss seven missteps made by real charities. While there are certainly more than seven deadly fundraising sins, my article highlights common issues of concern. For example, conflicts of interest was rated among the top ethical concerns of fundraisers, according to a recent AFP survey. In my article, I explore this issue citing a real-world example:

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August 24, 2018

What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?

Recent incidents at Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Oxfam Great Britain, The Presidents Club Charitable Trust, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and elsewhere remind us that the nonprofit sector is not immune to wrongdoing and scandal.

If you’ve never worked for a charity reeling from scandal, there’s a good chance you will one day. Even if you don’t work directly for a scandalized charity, you could still be affected by a loss of public trust if a similar nonprofit finds itself under the spotlight for misdeeds.

For those reasons, it is essential that you learn the most important thing about how to survive a scandal.

Three broad types of scandals can affect a nonprofit organization negatively:

1. Self-inflicted scandals beyond your control. Here’s an example of a situation that was beyond the control of fundraising staff. Oxfam Great Britain was banned from operating in Haiti and the organization’s country director was forced to resign following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Four other employees were fired for “gross misconduct.” While the frontline fundraising staff was not at all involved in the scandal itself, they nevertheless had to deal with the aftermath.

2. Self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided. We saw this when the Ohio Attorney General’s Office accused the charity Cops for Kids of defrauding donors of $4.2 million. Of all the money it raised over a 10-year-period, the charity spent less than two percent on charitable programming. This scandal allegedly involved fundraising staff as well as senior staff engaging in fraudulent behavior. The solution to this type of scandal is simple: Do not misbehave. Obey the law and adhere to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Standards, the International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising, and/or your nation’s own fundraising code of ethics.

3. Guilt-by-similarity scandal. People in Scotland experienced this several years ago. A cancer charity was embroiled in a well-publicized scandal. As expected, that charity saw a sharp decline in contributions. However, there was also an unpleasant, broad side effect. Completely unaffiliated cancer charities in Scotland also experienced a deep drop in donations resulting from broad public mistrust of all cancer charities. It took the innocent charities nearly a year to recover even with a coordinated campaign to restore public confidence.

Other than avoiding problems in the first place, always a good idea, what can you and your organization do to ensure it can survive a crisis or scandal?

The answer is simple, though the execution is not: Build strong relationships with donors. It takes effort, financial resources, and time. However, it’s an investment well worth making.

Recently, a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch contacted me. Rob Oller sought my commentary about the scandal involving Urban Meyer, The Ohio State University football coach. You can read about the situation on your own since there’s no need for me to get into the details here. Suffice to say that the coach has received a three-game suspension, but not before Bob Evans Restaurants withdrew its corporate sponsorship of Ohio State football.

Oller asked me about how scandal affects charitable giving. I told him, “It depends on the institution and quality of the relationships with its donors over time. The stronger the relationships the more likely the institution is able to weather the controversy.”

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December 19, 2014

Is Spelman College Unethical?

Spelman College has announced that it is suspending an endowed professorship in humanities that was funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. Spelman issued this one-paragraph statement:

December 14, 2014 — The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life; however, the current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”

The Cosby family donated $20 million to Spelman in 1988. In 1996, Spelman opened the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby EdD Academic Center. At that time, “an endowed professorship named for Drs. Cosby was also established to support visiting scholars in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences as well as Spelman College’s Museum of Fine Art,” according to a November 25 written statement by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman’s president.

The November statement also explained:

The academic center and endowed professorship were funded through a philanthropic commitment from the Cosby family made more than 25 years ago, and at this time there are no discussions regarding changes to the terms of the gift.”

Just 19 days later, Spelman reversed its position and suspended the professorship. When contacted, several Spelman officials refused to comment. A representative for Cosby also declined to comment.

Bill Cosby by remolacha.net via Flickr

Bill Cosby

For the past several weeks, Bill Cosby has been the target of a large number of sexual assault allegations. However, no criminal charges have been filed against Cosby. Spelman knew this in November. It’s unclear why the College abruptly suspended the endowed professorship now. While additional allegations have been made in the intervening weeks, Cosby still has not been charged with a crime.

To paraphrase Tyler Perry, if Cosby did commit the sexual assaults, it’s a terrible situation. If Cosby did not commit the sexual assaults, it’s a terrible situation. I won’t comment on the Cosby situation beyond that. However, I do want to explore the Spelman news because it has broader implications for all nonprofit institutions.

Nonprofit organizations are ethically required to use a donor’s contribution in the way in which the donor intended. The applicable portions of the Donor Bill of Rights “declares that all donors have these rights”:

IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given….

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition….

VI. To be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.”

The relevant passages from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Principles state:

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