October is Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Ethics Month is Jim Eskin’s take on AFP’s mission. Here’s what Eskin has to share:
Every profession likes to claim ethics is essential to its success. But you can make an especially robust case that this is indeed the case in fundraising.
What’s it take to be successful in fundraising? Strengths like persuasion, problem-solving and persistence come quickly to mind. But integrity is squarely at the top.
It All Depends on Trust
Fundraising is a profession directed at nurturing friendships that culminate in gifts of time, talent and treasure. There is no way that is possible without earning and maintaining trust. I love the expression that fundraising occurs at the speed of trust.
Ethics isn’t an option but a necessity. We simply aren’t going to be successful if donors don’t have faith in us. They must have full confidence that we and the organizations we serve are going to do what we say we’re going to do and fulfill their philanthropic intent.
Roots in AFP
Drafting a code of ethics for professional fundraisers was the first order of business for founders of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in 1960. Ethics remains a top priority for AFP, serving as a guide and major asset to the 31,000+ members in some 240 chapters who raise more than $100 billion annually. Fittingly, AFP has established October as Ethics Awareness Month.
Every member must sign and abide by the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards. This is the strictest and only enforced code in the profession.
This year, AFP President and CEO Mike Geiger is emphasizing the theme “Living Your Ethics Out Loud” and is challenging colleagues to work hard every day to ensure that ethics is integrated and elevated into all of their work.
Let’s step back for a moment. What do we mean by ethics?
There’s a tendency to make it philosophical and abstract, but it doesn’t have to be that way. More often than not, it can be boiled down to a simple extension of the Golden Rule.
Ethical reasoning centers on the ability to see and understand different perspectives and viewpoints, and the capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s not just knowing what’s in it for you, it’s weighing the impact on other people.
In the fundraising profession, accountability and transparency are touchstones for consistently doing the right thing.
Another core value is confidentiality. Fundraisers are privy to our donors’ personal financial information — information that even family members sometimes don’t have access to. You better believe we keep it private.
Being good stewards of gifts is both the right and smart move. It makes it possible to go back to donors and ask that they renew and upgrade gifts.
Commissions are Taboo
Remuneration issues receive attention. From the AFP Standard of Professional Practice: “Members shall not accept compensation or enter into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions; nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees.”
Those involved in fundraising, both in paid and volunteer capacities, understand that gifts are seldom the result of a single relationship or moment. Rather they reflect a dynamic process of education and engagement over time. It’s unfair to reward a fundraiser for a gift that many others make possible.
Percentage compensation, commissions and finder’s fees can lead to abuses and compromise the best interests of the donor. Keep in mind that several benchmarks are appropriately embraced, such as the number of new donors acquired, the number of gifts upgraded and the number of “asks” made.
In Closing …
Fundraisers, when necessary, need to exercise courage. This might mean saying “no” to a gift when it comes with improper strings or standing up to our own superiors in insisting on adherence to the donor’s rights.
Ethical behavior can’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a loop joining practitioners, management, boards, volunteers and donors. Together, we can embrace and sustain a culture in which ethics is continually developed, encouraged and strengthened.
We all know how fiercely competitive fundraising is today. Donors receive many more requests than they can possibly fund and have to choose not between the good and the bad, but between the good and the good. One ethical slip-up can wipe out the trust earned over several years with donors.
Every day I am proud to watch my colleagues throughout the non-profit community place ethics at the heart of their work, forging partnerships with donors that advance the noble missions of our organizations that touch, improve and save more lives!
October is Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Ethics Month was first posted at INSIDE CHARITY
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Jim Eskin’s consulting practice, Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his more than 150 fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure major gifts. He has authored 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here