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Normative fundraising ethics 

Our main work into fundraising ethics has been in developing a theory of fundraising ethics that can be applied consistently to ethical dilemmas.

Surprising as it may seem, fundraising has very little in the way of theoretical ethics that underpins professional practice. This means that when fundraisers encounter an ethical dilemma, they often have to make up their ethical policy on the hoof without guidance or frameworks for them to follow.

Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics

What theory that has been developed about fundraising ethics tends to place all a fundraiser's ethical duties on to donors, so that what is right in fundraising is the course of action that does right by donors.

However, a process focused on ethical duties to donors marginalises, or even excludes, fundraisers' ethical duties to their beneficiaries.

Our work has therefore focused on developing a theory that finds a central place for beneficiaries, and brings beneficiaries into the ethical decision-making process. We call this Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics, and it states that:

Fundraising is ethical when it balances the duty of fundraisers to ask for support (on behalf of their beneficiaries) with the relevant rights of the donor (particularly the right of the donor not to be subjected to undue pressure to donate)…

…such that a mutually beneficial outcome is achieved and neither stakeholder is significantly harmed.

Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics underpins much of our work on professional ethics, as well as that on self-regulation of fundraising.

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More information

  • Read about our ideas on fundraising ethics in this two-part blog on the SOFII website.

  • Read an article from the Journal of Business Ethics – authored by Ian MacQuillin and Adrian Sargeant of the Philanthropy Centre – that further explores Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics.

  • Rogare's director Ian MacQuillin talks about fundraising ethics at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands.

  • A philosophical rationale for a fundraiser’s duty to ask, by Rogare International Advisory Panel member Cherian Koshy.

  • Check out all blogs on fundraising ethics published or linked to on the Critical Fundraising Blog

Decision-making framework for fundraising

We have developed an ethical decision-making framework based on our theory development. This framework is designed to be used with the Rogare white paper.

This is already fairly fully formed and has been presented at conferences in Canada, Sweden, UK and USA and is taught on the IoF Certificate in Fundraising. The next stage is to publish the framework to the profession in a paper that includes examples of how to apply and use the framework in cases of actual ethical dilemmas, which we plan to do in 2022.

  • In the meantime, you can view and download the framework here.

Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics in professional practice

Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics is taught as part of the syllabus of the Institute of Fundraising’s Certificate in Fundraising.


It has also been incorporated into the Scottish Fundraising Guarantee Fundraising Guarantee Statement devised by the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel, and thus sits at the heart of fundraising self-regulation in Scotland:


“Fundraising is the life blood of many Scottish charities and we need to raise funds from voluntary sources. We could not fulfil our charitable mission without the support of generous, thoughtful and committed donors. We value the support of donors and understand the need to balance our duties to beneficiaries, with our duties to donors.”

  • Read the full Scottish Fundraising Guarantee.

Virtue ethics

We have based the development of Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics on the ethical pillars of consequentialism (what’s right as the best outcomes) and deontology (what’s right conforms to a moral principle or duty). But there is a third major strand of normative ethics – this is virtue ethics, which says what’s right is what a virtuous person would do. This is is also on our agenda for this year. Read more about our work on virtue ethics here, which will also include a foray into Feminist Care Ethics.

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