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Mayes Wilson & Associates

Can you afford to ignore fundraising ethics?

Julie Whelan Capell |

Ethics are to fundraising what seat belts are to a car. You barely notice them until you hit a bump in the road. And then, if they’re missing, you’ll find yourself in a world of pain.

I have often been asked if I would accept compensation based on a percentage of the donations I generate. The answer is always “No.”

Why is it a bad idea to pay fundraisers on commission?

Because it creates a situation in which the fundraiser might try to increase their income by placing undue pressure on a donor. Or, if a donor found out a fundraiser was working on commission, the mere perception of such a personal conflict of interest could forever destroy the donor’s trust in the nonprofit.

Use of restricted gifts

Another thorny fundraising ethics situation arises when organizations use a restricted gift for reasons other than the purpose intended by the donor.

This has become more of an issue during COVID, when many nonprofits have been unable to run their usual programs. If a donor thought she was donating to your resident camp program and you have switched to a virtual camp, you owe it to her to disclose this change.

Very seldom have I seen a donor refuse a reasonable request to redirect their funds, You definitely do not want to be in a position of explaining such a switch after the fact to an angry donor. (By the way, this also pertains to grant funds–always ask the grantmaker before changing how you use their monies).

How can you avoid fundraising ethics entanglements?

A good place to start is by hiring fundraising staff and consultants who are members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Every AFP member signs a detailed Code of Ethical Conduct annually.

Violation of the standards may subject the member to disciplinary sanctions as provided in the AFP Ethics Enforcement Procedures.

I am a long time member of AFP and strive to always uphold AFP’s ethical standards, even if it means having tough conversations with clients.

Sometimes the best thing to do when facing an ethical dilemma is to talk with an expert.  Remember, MWA is here for you!

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