Question: Fundraising Ethics

I want this blog to be a place where we can ask questions and hear from a very skilled and qualified group of readers. So… if you have a minute I’d love to hear back from you. Even if you only have a small comment I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve never written in before this is a great post to start with.

Some of the nonprofits I’ve worked are given specific projects to raise money for and other times it is very vague. It has always bothered me when it is not completely clear what a gift will be used for. I found myself wondering if I was the only one with these concerns and am curious how others have responded.

How many of you have raised money for a vague or generic purpose and did not know exactly what the money would go to? Can “vague” fundraising cross the line? If so where is that line?


10 Responses to Question: Fundraising Ethics

  1. Leslie Clay says:

    Fundraising should never be vague – it will always come back to bite you. Being vague about what the donation is going to fund is sort of like saying that depends on what your definition of “is” is. Donors are smart – don’t try to pull something over on them.

  2. As the Annual Fund Manager for the Hospital Foundation, we raise money each year for a certain department and priority line. It may be towards the purchase of a major piece of equipment (i.e. 64 Slice CT Scanner). Having a known entity to raise funds for, is easier to market (from a development standpoint) and more attractive and tangible for donors, who now more than ever, want to make sure their gifts (and hard earned money) can be accounted for and they can see where their money is going.

  3. Jason Dick says:

    Many times I have raised money to support the work of the organization but not necessarily been specific as to what part of the organization it will fund. Would you consider that as vauge or pulling the wool over the donor’s eyes?

    I agree that having a specific thing to raise money for makes fundraising way more effective. Leslie & Claudia thanks for your comments!

  4. Conor Byrne says:

    I worked in an organisation at the start of my fundraising career where we would hang an appeal (grassroots mostly) on a particular thing, so we would say the funds were going to a specific service the charity provided, but there was no real way of knowing that the money would actually be used for this particular part of the organisation. I always felt a bit uncomfortable about that. The organisation did use the funds wisely, they ran a very tight ship, but I would have rathered to have based the appeal on either exactly where the funds were going or just been generic…I felt we just rolled out the same part of the organisation as the one needing support as it was the “sexiest”!

    I think if you can be specific thats great. We all know how great explaining the Impact is. But the reality is sometimes you cant be. I believe that its ok in those instances to give examples of some of the things the money can do, or some things you have done in the past with similar donations. Ideally follow up though and let the donor know what the funds were actually used for.

  5. Scott Rooks says:

    I think that there is a fine line between vague and broad. It takes money for overhead to run any organization and fundraising for that kind of broad topic is hard to pinpoint. The amount of things that are classified as general operating expenses is endless it seems but a necessary need for every nonprofit. I believe as long as reporting is open and transparent this is as necessary and as important a need as directly funding a particular cause’s programs. I have raised money for both but clarity in reporting is key to the line that we shouldn’t cross.

  6. June Marshall says:

    I have been struggling with this issue for some time. As an assistant to the executive team, I see all donations before anyone else, and I also see where these funds are ultimately allocated. At one point, our agency solicited “general operating” funds from a major donor, but the money went directly to the development director’s salary. Donor found out and there was a lot of scrambling and groveling and the agency retained the donor. But nothing has changed since then except how the books say the money is allocated. I see this as clearly unethical, but it’s a tricky thing to pin down if the fiscal director can just move money around in the books. Just for the record, I am actively looking for other employment for this and other related reasons, but how responsible am I, for even knowing this about the agency?

  7. Jason Dick says:

    Thanks again for your great answers. June I wanted to respond to your question about your responsibility. I have struggled with the same thing wondering what I am responsible for. First off I’m sorry that this happened that is a really tough situation to be in. I don’t think that you personally should feel responsible here. I think that when that line is crossed it is important that you let the employer know that you are not willing to do that. If you were the one that asked for the gift or decided how/where the money is spent I think you might have an accountability. Any one else? June that is a really great question.

  8. […] post: How Clean Up Your Database | // Last month I did a question on “Fundraising Ethics” and I got such great feedback that I thought I’d try it again (This question was […]

  9. It’s all about packaging. Every org has to pay the electric bill… AND the Development Director. The fundraising team should be a part of program development insofar as assistance with naming initiatives and determining how much of the Program budget needs to be allocated to each programmatic area. Other expenses such as administrative and overhead should then be split up proportionally to raise funds for, with perhaps a couple of gray areas that you occassionally write specific grants for like technology or public affairs to maintain a lower overhead fee into your programmatic requests. Staff time should also always be calculated and split into requests. There are very few instances to raise general operating money, even if the money is for general programs, typically most needed by orgs and used most easily and effectively. Events are also a great way to raise unrestricted support.

  10. Amanda Scott says:

    A local youth softball team has been doing some fundraising to help curb their teams travel expense to a National Tournament. Their vagueness in the term team travel expense has kead me to do some digging. Come to find out, it’s to subsidize parents travel expenses. 10 girls on the team 15 parents going (including the coach) and about 5 siblings. Sounds like a paid family vacation to me. Glad to know, so I don’t donate to that team ever again.

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