Posts tagged ‘ethics’

September 14, 2018

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Fundraising in Times of Crisis

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Florence is barreling toward North Carolina. Watching the news reports, I’m reminded that the best way to weather a storm is to prepare before one strikes. The tragic situation in the southeastern US can serve as a metaphor for coping with any type of crisis, even for the nonprofit sector.

The best way to deal with a crisis is to prepare for one before one strikes. 

Guest blogger Sophie W. Penney, PhD is a big believer in that axiom. Sophie is President of i5 Fundraising and Senior Program Coordinator/Lecturer for the Penn State University Certificate Program in Fundraising Leadership. As the co-editor and chapter author of the soon-to-be-released book, Student Affairs Fundraising, Raising Funds to Raise the Bar, Sophie will be sharing her insights at the CT Alliance 2018 Conference on October 2, 2018 where she will present a session about leading through challenging times, Lions, Tigers and Bears: Leading Through Crisis.

A crisis can affect any type of organization. The nonprofit sector is not immune. As I point out in “What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?” there are three broad types of scandals or crises: 1) self-inflicted scandals beyond your control, 2) self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided, and 3) guilt-by-similarity scandal.

I’m grateful to Sophie for her willingness to share with us a few tidbits from her upcoming presentation that will help us all become better prepared to weather any scandal or crisis as we continue to strive to raise more money:

 

Michael Rosen’s recent blog post, “The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession,” was a clarion call to fundraisers. The piece served as a reminder that a profession designed to bring joy and result in great good can be fraught with challenges.

Fundraisers are pressed to raise ever-larger sums (and the sooner the better); as a result, it can be compelling to focus on fundraising tips, tools, and techniques that will bring in ever-bigger dollars. Yet a crisis, particularly legal or ethical in nature, can derail fundraising not only for a fiscal year, but for far longer.

Fundraising in times of crisis hit home for me in 2011 with the advent of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal. This child sexual abuse scandal toppled the Penn State University President, resulted in the abrupt firing of the University’s revered football coach, led to the sale of a nonprofit founded to serve the very types of children who became victims, and rocked a small community previously known as “Happy Valley.” What’s more, the scandal came to light in the midst of the University’s billion-dollar capital campaign, which was on the verge of going into a public phase. Yet, the Sandusky Scandal is just one of many such crises to rock the nonprofit world:

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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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May 18, 2018

Thank You For Your Support!

With this post, I want to thank you and share some practical information about plagiarism.

Last week, I revealed how I was the victim of plagiarism. Someone lifted a portion of one of my recent blog posts, altered the intention of my words, and purposely misattributed them to someone else in an article he wrote attacking the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Now, I would like to thank you and everyone who supported me with blog comments, tweets, emails, and phone calls. Professionally speaking, the support confirms that my confidence in our profession is well placed. Personally speaking, the support warmed my heart and let me know that I am not alone.

At times, such as in last week’s example, plagiarism is an intentional act. At other times, plagiarism is accidental.

When I spoke with a friend, a college faculty member and former fundraising professional, he confirmed that what I had experienced was clearly an act of plagiarism. He also told me about a website that provides the academic community with useful information for good people who want to better understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. The website Plagiarism.org says:

Plagiarism is a common (and often misunderstood) problem that is often the result of a lack of knowledge and skills.”

By creating a better understanding, the website seeks to reduce incidents of plagiarism in schools and throughout society. “What is Plagiarism?” an article at the website, tells us:

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May 4, 2018

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:

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April 20, 2018

Do Not Make this Big Error with Your Next Challenge Grant

I’ve seen it frequently. Fundraising professionals often make a big error when using a challenge grant. And they compound that error unethically by misleading prospective donors. It’s a common issue that is costing the nonprofit sector a fortune.

What’s the huge mistake? Fabrication of a bogus challenge grant.

True challenge grants are great. When a fundraising professional inspires a donor to provide a challenge grant, the nonprofit has a powerful tool to encourage greater contributions when making an appeal.

Typically, a challenge grant will match new and increased support to a charity. Oftentimes, the match will be dollar-for-dollar, though other multiples can also be arranged. In the case of a dollar-for-dollar challenge, if a new donor gives $100, the challenge-grant donor will give the charity $100. If a $50 donor from last year gives $75 this year, the challenge-grant donor will give $25. Typical challenge grants are not unlimited; the donor will set a maximum total amount.

Using a challenge grant can be an excellent fundraising tool for four reasons:

1.  It encourages donor support by increasing the value of donations. For example, with a one-to-one match, new donors have their contributions effectively doubled, thereby significantly magnifying the impact donors can have.

2. It encourages donor support because donors do not want the organization to lose money. If a donor makes a new or increased gift, the charity will receive additional money from the challenge-grant donor. However, the converse is also potentially true.

If a donor does not give, the charity could lose out on some of the challenge grant. Therefore, while a challenge grant can increase the value of a donor’s gift, it can also create the impression of a cost to the organization if the donor does not give. Some donors are motivated by the concern, “If I don’t give my $125, the organization could miss out on another $125 from the challenge-grant donor. I don’t want to cost the organization $125.”

3.  It creates a sense of urgency to give now. Typically, challenge grants must be fulfilled within a narrow time-frame. So, prospective donors are encouraged to act now rather than delay their philanthropic decision. The sooner someone gives in response to an appeal, the more likely they are to give. People who set an appeal aside thinking they’ll get to it later, often do not.

The urgency created by a challenge grant is also useful for planned giving campaigns encouraging donors to include the charity in their Will (Charitable Bequest). People do not like to think about end-of-life planning, so it’s easy for them to keep delaying until it’s too late. A challenge grant creates a sense of urgency that can overcome what social scientists call personal mortality salience.

You can read about a fantastic challenge-grant campaign for planned giving in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, beginning on page 188.

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March 8, 2018

Update: Is the Nonprofit Sector Ignoring the #TimesUp Movement?

I’m surprised. You might be, too.

At the end of last month, I published the post “#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune.” The post is one of my least read articles so far this year. By comparison, several old posts that I have not promoted for a long time have attracted far more readers during the past week. Given the seriousness of workplace sexual harassment and assault, I am disappointed that my post on the subject has not received more attention.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not whining. I’m simply concerned that an important, timely issue facing the nonprofit sector is apparently of little interest to fundraising professionals and nonprofit managers.

Why do you think my previous #TimesUp post has attracted so few readers?

It could be that folks do not believe it’s really a significant issue for the nonprofit sector; after all, we do good so we must be good. Or, it could be that nonprofit professionals don’t believe they have the power to bring change to their organizations, so they don’t bother thinking about it. Or, it could be something else. What do you think?

Interestingly, the percentage of post readers who responded to my one-question anonymous survey was above average. While the broader universe of potential readers might not have been interested in the article, those who did read the piece were highly engaged.

The poll was admittedly unscientific. Nevertheless, I owe it to those who responded to share the results:

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February 27, 2018

#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune

The nonprofit and philanthropic communities are not immune. We must face a sad truth: Sexual harassment and assault do not exist exclusively in Hollywood or even just the broader for-profit sector. The problems also fester in the nonprofit and philanthropic sphere. The issue is so serious for the nonprofit sector that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has recently issued a clear statement and planned steps to address the situation.

The victims of Harvey Weinstein made the world aware, in 2017, of the Hollywood movie mogul’s alleged despicable acts of sexual harassment and assault. The revelations led to the #MeToo social media movement that put the spotlight on other alleged perpetrators in the film and other industries.

As the year ended, the #MeToo movement evolved into the #TimesUp initiative. Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, described the transition this way:

The simple shift in hashtag, #MeToo to #TimesUp, is telling: While the former has, thus far, largely emphasized the personal and the anecdotal, #TimesUp — objective in subject, inclusive of verb, suggestive of action — embraces the political. It attempts to expand the fight against sexual harassment, and the workplace inequality that has allowed it to flourish for so long, beyond the realm of the individual story, the individual reality.”

The #TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, part of the new movement, set an initial $15 million goal, now $22 million. As of this writing, over $21 million has been raised from nearly 20,000 donors through GoFundMe.

Within the nonprofit sector, it’s easy for us to have a false sense of comfort. Some may believe others are addressing the problem adequately. Others may believe the problem is not that widespread among nonprofits because they are inherently good because they do good.

Unfortunately, there is ample anecdotal and statistical evidence demonstrating that the nonprofit sector faces the same situation as the rest of society when it comes to sexual exploitation, harassment, and assault. Wherever some people hold power over others, the door is open to sexual harassment and assault.

Consider just a few examples:

The Presidents Club. Over the years, this organization has raised over 20 million British pounds for various children’s charities in the UK. The cornerstone fundraising activity of this UK-based charity has been an annual gala for over 300 figures from British business, finance, and politics. On January 18, the group gathered at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London where they were joined by 130 hostesses.

A Financial Times investigative report found:

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.”

I can’t do this story justice. Please take a few moments to read the full Financial Times article. It’s stunning. Since the report was published, The Presidents Club has ceased operations.

Oxfam. Large international charities are not immune to scandal either. Oxfam officials this month released the findings of an internal investigation that found its country director for Haiti hired “prostitutes” during a relief mission in 2011. Furthermore, in 2016 and 2017, Oxfam dealt with 87 sexual exploitation cases as well as sexual harassment or assault of staff, according to a report in Devex. While the Haiti country director has resigned and Oxfam has taken steps to avoid exploitation and harassment in the future, the negative public relations and philanthropic fallout have been significant.

Humane Society of the United States. Wayne Pacelle, Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society, resigned following sexual harassment charges filed against him, according to The New York Times. While Pacelle maintains his innocence, he also faced allegations of sexual relationships with subordinates, donors, and volunteers going back years.

While the anecdotes are alarming, they don’t really help us understand how vast the problem is. So, let’s look at the numbers. In the USA, nearly 1200 sexual-harassment claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against nonprofit organizations between 1995 and 2016, according to a report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While a significant number, it likely only reflects a modest percentage of actual cases, most of which go unreported or are only reported internally.

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September 27, 2016

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.

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August 19, 2016

Could Your #Nonprofit be Forced to Return a Donor’s Gift?

Officials at Vanderbilt University got schooled. They learned, the hard way, that nonprofit organizations cannot unilaterally void the terms of a gift agreement without returning the donation.

This is a story that keeps on giving. It provides an important lesson for all nonprofit organizations about the requirement, ethical and legal, to honor donor intent.

The tale begins in 1933 when the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to the George Peabody College of Teachers to build a dormitory named “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

In 1979, Peabody was merged into Vanderbilt becoming the “Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.”

After years of discussion, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt decided in 2002 to drop the word “Confederate” and rename the building simply “Memorial Hall.” The University took this action without gaining the approval of the Daughters of the Confederacy or returning the gift.

After taking Vanderbilt to court, the Daughters of the Confederacy received a Tennessee Appeals Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the University to either keep the original name of the building or refund the donation … in inflation-adjusted dollars. That $50,000 gift from 1933 is now valued at $1.2 million.

As reported in Inside Higher Ed:

The appeals court unanimously rejected Vanderbilt’s argument that academic freedom gave it the right to change the name. Vanderbilt argued that the Supreme Court has given private colleges considerable latitude in their decisions. But the appeals court said that was irrelevant because the agreement to name the dormitory ‘Confederate Memorial Hall’ was between a donor and a charitable group — and the government never forced the gift to be accepted.”

In its ruling, the Appeals Court stated (emphasis is mine):

We fail to see how the adoption of a rule allowing universities to avoid their contractual and other voluntarily assumed legal obligations whenever, in the university’s opinion, those obligations have begun to impede their academic mission would advance principles of academic freedom. To the contrary, allowing Vanderbilt and other academic institutions to jettison their contractual and other legal obligations so casually would seriously impair their ability to raise money in the future by entering into gift agreements such as the ones at issue here.

It took quite some time but, with money raised from anonymous donors, Vanderbilt paid $1.2 million to the Daughters of the Confederacy and renamed the building this month in accordance with the Court’s judgment.

Unfortunately, this has not brought this story to a happy conclusion. Vanderbilt has damaged its reputation by revealing its willingness to “casually” disregard donor intent.

I stand firmly with the Appeals Court decision. How I feel, or anyone feels, about the old Confederacy or the word “Confederate” on the building is irrelevant in this case. Instead, there are two powerful governing issues involved here:

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June 30, 2016

It’s Time for You to Speak Up!

A jury recently convicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) of federal racketeering, bribery, and conspiracy, a total of 22 criminal charges. Days later, Fattah resigned his Congressional seat. The court will sentence him in October. He is likely to appeal.

The saga of yet another corrupt, unethical politician might not normally attract much attention from the nonprofit sector. However, this particular story should. And you should be outraged.

Among other things, prosecutors argued that Fattah used charities he created to funnel funds for his personal benefit:

  • Funds were stolen from a Fattah-founded charity to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan.
  • Fattah created a fake charity that received federal funds that were then misappropriated.
  • Fattah-founded charities were used to launder stolen funds.
  • Fattah-controlled groups received federal grants, but tried to cover up what happened to that money when officials conducted financial audits.

Furthermore, a Daily News investigative report stated:

…nonprofits founded or supported by the Philadelphia congressman have paid out at least $5.8 million to his associates, including political operatives, ex-staffers and their relatives.”

Despite Fattah’s abuse of the public trust, his Democratic Party colleagues have been tepid in their reactions:

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) — “It’s a shame to have something like this happen.”

Hear No Evil... by MASK Productions via FlickrPhiladelphia Mayor Jim Kenney — “The jury spoke, and the criminal justice system went forward.”

Ed Rendell (former Philadelphia District Attorney, former Philadelphia Mayor, former Pennsylvania Governor, and former Chair of the DNC) — “We’re not all bad. We’re not all evil.”

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — “Heartbreaking.”

While the responses from the political sector have been weak, the nonprofit sector has been infuriatingly silent. Where is the Association of Fundraising Professionals? Where is the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations? Where is Charity Navigator? Where is The Chronicle of Philanthropy?

I was very frustrated by the deafening silence from the nonprofit community. Instead of a yawn or a shrug, we should be condemning Fattah’s abuse of the public trust and his misuse of nonprofit organizations because his misdeeds negatively impact the credibility of all nonprofit organizations. We should be demanding that the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General investigate Fattah and his charities. If appropriate, Fattah should be charged with violations of the state’s laws governing charities and the charities should be held to account.

Then, I realized something. I have a platform. Therefore:

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