Perhaps the most important topic in fundraising, but with the least thinking behind it
The practice of fundraising attracts more than its fair share of allegations about unethical practice, such as:
how much it costs (the perennial – and nonsensical – demand from some people that every penny they give should be spent on ‘the cause’ and none of it to help run the charity or raise more money)
use of third-party fundraising agencies
how charities process data
‘aggressive’ or ‘guilt-tripping’ types of fundraising (so-called ‘chuggers’ often being the main targets of such allegations).
In fact, fundraising practice has plenty of ethical prescriptions, which are mainly contained in its codes of practice – such as the Fundraising Regulator's Code of Fundraising Practice in the UK, and the Donor Bill of Rights, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, in the USA.
These codes contain ‘applied’ ethics that tell fundraisers what they may or may not do.
But what the fundraising profession has much less of is what’s known as ‘normative’ ethics – theories that help fundraisers understand why they may or may not do certain things.
Unlike most other professions or emerging professions – including marketing and public relations, the two most closely related to fundraising – fundraising has almost no normative ethical foundation upon which its applied practices are built.
A major component of our work to build a richer and more robust knowledge base is in developing new theories of professional ethics that will provide a firm foundation for ethical best practice.
Our main project has been to develop a new normative theory of fundraising ethics. This states that:
Fundraising is ethical when it balances the duty of fundraisers to ask for support (on behalf of their beneficiaries) with the right of the donor not to be subject to undue pressure to donate…
…such that a mutually beneficial outcome is achieved and neither stakeholder is significantly harmed.
What we are working on
Our work on ethics is currently focused on six areas...
What we want to achieve
a. Improve ethical decision making by fundraisers in their day-to-day roles.
b. Empower fundraisers to ethically justify, advocate and defend their actions to stakeholders (public, colleagues, boards, regulators, politicians and media).
c. Improve ethical decision making in fundraising at a strategic policy level by ensuring fundraising policies are ethically coherent and consistent and not developed solely as a reaction to allegations of unethical practice.
d. Advance fundraising’s claims to professionhood by putting its professional ethics on a firmer foundation.
e. Reduce scepticism about, criticism of, and hostility to fundraising (from the likes of media and politicians) by demonstrating a coherent theory of professional ethics that underpins those activities that attract criticism.