It is a bit disturbing to me that in the last couple of months, two of the most known nonprofits in our community have been reported as doing some questionable things. Some were simply foolish and some were, allegedly, illegal. When one or two nonprofits do things that put them in the news in a very negative way, it can make people (donors, volunteers, and the community at large) wary of how all nonprofits run. And that does a disservice to the community that the nonprofits are there to serve.
Several times in my career, I’ve been accused of being a little too straight and narrow when it comes to fundraising and operating ethically. It isn’t always an easy position to be in, having to explain to someone (maybe a coworker or a board member) that you cannot and/or will not do a thing that is ethically questionable (and why the particular thing could be construed as unethical) in order to obtain funding or gain the favor of someone.
But it would be a much harder position to be in to give in and do the ethically questionable thing, then be “caught” and have to explain why you did it. It would definitely result in loss of trust from people around you, it could result in termination, and in extreme cases it could even result in litigation. I’d much rather proactively explain why something is not ethically reasonable and then to look for more acceptable alternatives than have to wrestle with my conscious for doing something I didn’t feel good about.
It is often up to us, as fundraisers and nonprofit executives, to keep on top of knowing what can or cannot be done in effort to fund our organizations. At times people will suggest we do things that we shouldn’t… but those people, nine times out of ten, are not purposely suggesting we do something “wrong”, they just don’t realize that there are strict guidelines and regulations that govern fundraising. When we, as the development professional that has been hired to know the ins and outs, explain the situation to them, most everyone will understand and try to help find another, more ethically sound way to achieve the desired goals. It can be difficult to be the person explaining why something cannot or should not be done, without sounding like a naysayer. We don’t want to present ourselves as negative, we just want to safeguard ourselves and our organization from doing something that we would regret.
Fundraising is a profession. Running a nonprofit is a business. We must do both in ways that instill trust and confidence in those around us and make us worthy of the donors who give to our mission, the volunteers who work for it, and the clients who need/benefit from our services.
The following is a link to a blog post that was initially published in 2011. It gives a few resources that nonprofit professionals can use to help them navigate a course that will steer them towards ethically sound waters…. and keep them out hot water.