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Ethics Jeopardy

October is Ethics Awareness Month in Fundraising. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has an entire section on ethics, including a handy toolkit.

As fundraisers, we uphold the AFP Code of Ethical Standards and the Donor Bill of Rights. Translating those standards into our everyday practices is crucial for our profession. Here are a few true examples I have seen in my career when I’ve had to invoke those standards.

Donor Visits

Years ago, I worked at a university and would visit one of our most loyal donors. He was a retired physician and a very generous donor. He was an octogenarian and lived in an assisted living center. I always made sure I included another person in our visits. Why? The doctor always wanted to send me off with a check. He would even ask me to fill out the check and amount, and then he would sign it. I would explain I was there to share updates and ask about him, nevertheless, he always wanted to make a gift. Having another person there avoided the perception that I was exerting undue influence on him.

I didn’t want to exploit the donor’s relationship.

Advocating for Donors’ Intent

Several times during my fundraising career, I had to carefully balance the needs of the organization with the donors’ wishes. Sometimes, they clashed. I’m sure I frustrated a boss or two along the way when I explained the donor didn’t wish to contribute to a specific funding initiative. I also didn’t want to get a “go-away gift” from a donor.

I had to ensure that contributions are used in accordance with donors’ intentions.

Donor Records

As a major gift officer, I tried to stay organized with my donor visits and entering call reports in a timely manner. One major rule of thumb was to never entered private, confidential information into the donor database. The donor might have confided in me about a health issue or personal situation. If that information might be relevant to the nonprofit and a future gift, I would include the sentence: “Check with Michelle for details.” I never put anything into a donor’s record that I wouldn’t show to the donor.

I always protect the confidentiality of all privileged information relating to the provider/client relationships.

Ethics are woven into the fabric of our daily fundraising efforts. The newsworthy headlines about a donor’s gift gone awry do happen but I’ve found our profession’s ethical standards are as much a part of our work as the donor cycle. We are trusted fundraising professionals and we must always be donor centric and uphold our ethical standards.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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