Introducing Ethics Month: What is the right thing to do?

Introducing Ethics Month: What is the right thing to do?

Daniel Fluskey | 24 September 2019

As America's Association of Fundraising Professionals earmarks next month as 'Ethics Month', Institute of Fundraising's Dan Fluskey introduces a series of blogs which will be published throughout October curated by fundraising think tank Rogare's director Ian MacQuillin on current ethics debates within the sector and why the topic should be at the forefront of all fundraisers minds.

It’s a question that every fundraiser will have to ask in their career, and one that rarely has a straightforward answer. Whether it’s about a potential donation that you aren’t sure if you should refuse or accept, how to best include and involve your beneficiaries in your fundraising campaigns, or wondering how much you can accept conditions attached to a donation, knowing ‘what the right thing to do’ can be really tricky. And it’s not just in those individual situations that the question arises, it is there all the time as an integral part of wider ethical framework that should set the values and approach that your charity takes throughout its fundraising strategy.

While there might not be easy answers, the question of ethics is one that we need to be continually asking and discussing throughout the fundraising profession to inform our work and give our fundraisers the grounding they needed to navigate an ever evolving and challenging landscape. That’s why I’m glad that the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) – an IoF-like organisation in America – have earmarked this October as ‘Ethics Month’ and will be showcasing issues and discussions on ethics in fundraising. And to join in, I’m delighted that the IoF will also be using this October to promote the importance of ethics and highlight some of the key questions and discussions that are taking place in fundraising.

Rogare, the fundraising think tank, have been immersed in critical thinking about ethics in fundraising over recent years, and through October we will have a series of blogs curated and edited by their director, Ian MacQuillin, taking us through some of the big topics that fundraisers grapple with. Over the coming weeks we’ll have pieces including looking at donor dominance, duties to beneficiaries, and the role of senior leadership and hope to spark conversation and debate (because that’s where the fun happens!).

'Ethics can't be directed through algorithm'

The IoF used to set the Code of Fundraising Practice, and still has a role in informing and providing guidance and best practice on fundraising. But ethics is more than following a fundraising rule book – it’s about values and decisions – based on your individual organisation’s values. Often the answer to the ‘what’s the right thing to do’ will be dependent on your charitable objectives, activities, and beneficiaries. There are 160,000 registered charities in England & Wales, and another 24,000 in Scotland – the answer to ethical dilemmas or questions can’t and won’t be the same for every charity. Different charities will, naturally, come to different conclusions and adopt different approaches – that might seem confusing to some (and hard if all you want is a simple yes/no answer!), but it actually is something to be encouraged. Ethics can’t be directed through algorithm, it needs human involvement, consideration by trustees, thought and application from fundraising teams. We hope that through this October we will be able to help fundraisers think about some of these ethical questions and what they mean to them and their charity.

To kickstart the conversation, take a look at this video that was recorded at Fundraising Convention with our own Chief Executive Peter Lewis, AFP's President and Chief Executive Officer, Mike Geiger, and Katherine Raskob, Chief Executive Officer, Fundraising Institute Australia where they look at what the key ethics conversations are in their own countries.


Daniel Fluskey is Head of Policy and External Affairs at Institute of Fundraising.


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