Solutions to fundraising ethics are rarely a clear choice between right and wrong. More often, they are some shade between the two.

The October before the pandemic, the organization I served made a formal and public commitment to ethical fundraising. As Kentucky’s largest provider of post-secondary and workforce education the idea was to help model the way for our state. That public commitment formally embraced what already existed within our organizational culture. But once the pandemic hit, that commitment represented something far greater.

For example, the past year caused our organization to take a closer look at alternative sources of revenue. One opportunity involved the use of constituent data. Thankfully, the code includes three items that specifically address this topic. This helped us establish a policy for our Foundation that provides guidelines for appropriate data use and privacy.

Even though our organization has adopted the AFP Code of Ethical Standards. Our leadership and front-line advancement staff should not shy away from opportunities like these—to actively endorse a culture that values ethical fundraising. The work of reaffirming an ethical culture is never ending.

Solutions to fundraising ethics are rarely a clear choice between right and wrong. More often, they are some shade between the two. Encouraging an organizational culture of ethical fundraising does not need to share this ambiguity. Here are nine specific steps you can take within your organization to encourage a philanthropic culture that is also ethical.

9 Steps To Encourage a Culture of Ethical Philanthropy

  1. Identify and highlight areas where organizational values align with that of ethical fundraising.
  2. Find professionals in your organization that also have a professional code of ethics (accountants, attorneys, health care professionals) as internal allies toward an ethical mindset.
  3. Look for current events and sector trends that give you opportunity to have internal discussions on how your organization should/would handle similar situations OR connect with peer professionals for these discussions.
  4. Adopt the AFP Code of Ethics for your organization.
  5. Include the AFP Code of Ethics in stewardship reports, and/or donor gift agreements.
  6. Link the AFP Code of Ethics on your organizational website.
  7. Have board members and other leadership volunteers acknowledge the AFP Code of Ethics when they complete their annual conflict of interest disclosure for an annual audit.
  8. Find ways to publicly recognize those that practice ethical fundraising.
  9. Do not ignore ethical issues when they arise. Make their resolution a priority.


AFP Code of Ethical Standards

Deep Dives Into The AFP Code of Ethical Standards

The Donor Bill of Rights

AFP Ethics Awareness Month (October)

Excerpts of this article appeared in the Association of Fundraising Professionals October 1, 2021 issue of Advancing Philanthropy by Amy Towery, M.N.A., CFRE, ACFRE. “Ethics: A Firm Foundation for Success – The Code of Ethical Standards.”