Ethical Dilemmas in Fundraising: Booking Pledges Without Written Confirmation
This Ethics Awareness Month, we asked AFP members to share ethical dilemmas they have faced in their careers and how they were able to resolve them, successfully or not, using the AFP Code of Ethical Standards. See more ethical dilemmas.
Tell us about an ethical dilemma you faced:
My organization continually books pledges for donors and prospective donors without written confirmation from that individual. Oftentimes, a secondhand text message or email from a volunteer fundraiser, usually a board member, is used to secure the pledge, and then we are in a rush to "book it" so that the pledged amount will count toward the fundraising goal before the next board meeting, finance committee meeting, or other important metric review period. This practice was greatly encouraged by a former CEO who is no longer with the organization in any capacity, although it still happens on occasion.
How was the dilemma resolved?
The dilemma has largely been solved by the departure of the CEO who encouraged such behavior, although at times the practice is still occurring while the fundraising team continues to redefine our operations.
Were you able to use the AFP Code of Ethics?
I am satisfied with the change in our procedures although I wish this issue had been addressed head on while the former CEO was still here. The AFP Code of Ethical Standards was helpful in the sense that it identified a wrong practice which was in violation of Standards 1, 2, 4, 6, and 20. However, the Code did very little to cause much concern among staff or the CEO that such a practice might be unethical and in violation of the current code. Personally, I wish I had felt secure in my work environment to raise this issue without fear of reprisal by my CEO.
What could be done to solve or prevent this dilemma in the first place?
Training of fundraising staff according to the AFP Code of Ethical Standards would be a good start in preventing this in the future, as would using this code as a measuring stick against current practices. Furthermore, making other staff members aware of such a code and its importance in fundraising would also be a good idea, such as educating the finance department on these practices. The organization must ensure that donors and prospective donors are aware of what they are committing to or are being committed to by another and the organization should refrain from booking pledges that do not have substantial documentation acknowledging the donor or prospective donor's awareness.