10 Simple Ways to Protect Your Career From Ethical Slip-Ups
Ethical issues seldom announce themselves in advance. If they did, they would be easy to avoid. Often, unethical seeds arrive quietly and lie dormant until they erupt into an organizational or career-damaging quagmire.
As Association of Fundraising Professionals President and CEO Paulette Maehara has said, “Most ethical violations come about from omission rather than commission. People get into ethical trouble because they fail to pay enough attention to the ethical implications of familiar activities.”
Whether you are a fundraising newcomer or an old hand, here are 10 simple reminders to help keep your fundraising career out of ethical hot water.
1. Put your organization’s mission first.
The first rule of fundraising is that most donors give to a nonprofit organization because they believe in what the organization stands for. They trust the organization will do what it says. The only way to earn that trust is to ensure that you — and your organization — put the organization’s mission ahead of any personal interests.
2. Protect your donors’ intent.
Donors have a right to have their gifts used for the purposes they specify. That’s only fair. It’s also the best way to retain donor trust. As a fundraiser, you are in the best position to know the intent behind each donation, and it is your professional responsibility to ensure that your organization knows, understands and honors that intent.
3. Keep scrupulous records.
Fundraisers come and go; leaders and organizations change; institutions lose memory. The only way to keep track of donor intent (and avoid ethical challenges later) is to keep scrupulous written records. Organizations without such records and without active awareness of donor intent are asking for ethical trouble.
4. Educate your leadership.
Often, nonprofit CEOs and board members who lack a background in fundraising are tempted to accept or use donations improperly or to enter into improper incentive compensation schemes. This is especially true when an organization is hard-pressed for cash. In these situations, it is the duty of fundraisers to educate their leaders about fundraising ethics, including donor intent, the proper use of donated funds and compensation programs that do not put personal financial interest at odds with the organizational mission.