Fundraising for nonprofit organizations is challenging, but it is particularly tough when the economy sours. Professional fundraisers receive pressure from all types of stakeholders – their bosses, board members and, in some cases, donors and the benefactors of the philanthropy. There is pressure to meet fundraising goals and even exceed them. Facing these stressors, professional fundraisers increasingly encounter ethical dilemmas. They have to decide what is more important – their ethics or their job.
Here a few examples of ethical dilemmas in fundraising of which I am aware:
- Tuition payment vs. charitable contribution: A donor contacted a university and asked if he could contribute a charitable contribution to pay the college tuition of a student he knows. He was told “no” and directed to the college’s business office to pay the student’s tuition. While donors may develop criteria used to select scholarship recipients, donors cannot select the beneficiaries of their philanthropy, and they certainly cannot use charitable organizations to “pass through” tuition payments.
- Donor names employee as beneficiary: A fundraising professional became very close friends with a donor. The donor added the professional’s employer to her last will and testament. The donor later changed her will to include the individual rather than the employer. When the donor passed away, leaving a substantial amount of money to the professional, he was asked to give the money to his employer or resign. He resigned.
- Romantic relationships with donors: A fundraising professional began an affair with a married donor. The donor, who was very wealthy, contributed a great deal of money to the professional’s employer. When the affair ended, so did the donor’s commitment to the nonprofit organization.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of these ethical dilemmas are “black and white.” However, some are “gray,” which means the correct action is not clear cut. As fundraising becomes more and more important and prevalent, ethical dilemmas such as these will continue to crop up.
The questions we should ask when faced with these dilemmas are:
- Would I want the world to know about this situation?
- Is this situation in the best interest of the nonprofit organization?
- Is this situation legal?
If the answer to these questions is “no,” then just say “no.”
How would you have handled these situations? Are you familiar with other ethical dilemmas related to fundraising?