Posts tagged ‘AFP Code of Ethics’

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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