Fundraising Ethics: Our Commitment to Community, Our Commitment to Trust

This article, Fundraising Ethics: Our Commitment to Community, Our Commitment to Trust, originally appeared October 9, 2019 as a guest post on the Blog of KCTCS President Dr. Jay Box, Out of the Box.

Professional in JailStay out of jail in 25 easy steps! I’ve given this tongue-in-cheek presentation on fundraising ethics on several occasions. Ethics is one of those subjects that can evoke feelings of apprehension, fear, boredom, anxiety, or even apathy. I’ve found that a little levity has helped make the topic approachable.

Fundraising ethics are critical to the work of the social sector. Fundraising professionals develop relationships with potential donors to help them make philanthropic investments. Once they identify and align donor interests and organizational impact, both parties work together to articulate terms of a philanthropic investment. Trust is key in any successful relationship, and the relationship between a fundraiser and a donor is no exception. Without trust, philanthropy cannot grow.

Trust is key in any successful relationship, and the relationship between a fundraiser and a donor is no exception. Without trust, philanthropy cannot grow.

Beginning this October and each subsequent October, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) will be highlighting the importance and impact of ethics. Their push for an Ethics Awareness Month begins the fourth quarter of the year and immediately precedes what is commonly regarded as the giving season. The Kentucky and Community College System (KCTCS) saw this as an opportunity to formally affirm what was already embedded into the System’s DNA. On September 25, KCTCS President Jay Box and the presidents of the 16 KCTCS colleges joined the front-line fundraising staff at those same colleges to commit to effective and ethical fundraising.

I started in my role leading KCTCS’ philanthropic growth with full knowledge and appreciation of the legacy of those who preceded me. Timothy R. Burcham, CFRE, founding vice president for institutional advancement, was deeply committed to the ethical tenets of fundraising. His successor, Dr. Larry Ferguson, shared the same mindset. This is evidenced by many things, but chief among them is the high regard KCTCS gives to the AFP Code of Ethics and the Donor Bill of Rights. Both documents exist in all new-staff training materials as well as the training manual for fundraising staff. They reflect KCTCS’ commitment to the communities we serve.

Sadly, this is not the norm across the profession.

The fundraising profession is littered with casual terms: low-hanging fruit, reaching into deep pockets, hitting up people, leveraging a relationship, and tapping well-heeled donors. These terms are regrettable and reflect a different era, where a deep body of knowledge, credentialing, and professional ethics were absent from the scene.

Donors often equate fundraisers as salespeople. As professionals we reaffirm this when fundraising is distilled to being little more than making an “ask.” However, philanthropy is a deeply personal act. It should only reason that our profession should mirror that sensibility. That’s why the focus on professional ethics is so needed. Organizations and individuals that assume the mantle of ethical fundraising will lead the sector. Their commitment reflects a deep devotion to the greater good and models the way for the future of fundraising—where relationships and trust are as critical to a donor’s first gift as they are to lifelong philanthropy.

Organizations and individuals that assume the mantle of ethical fundraising will lead the sector… relationships and trust are as critical to a donor’s first gift as they are to lifelong philanthropy.

KCTCS is proud to link arms with AFP by being the first higher education system to formally commit to the only enforceable code of ethics for the fundraising profession. We invite others to join us in this commitment.

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