Guides & Resources

Ethical Dilemmas in Fundraising: Conflict with Board Member over Donor Intent

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Ethical Dilemmas

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:

I had started working at a small nonprofit as the director of development. Two months after I started, a long standing board member, and much loved and respected philanthropist in the community, passed away. Fast forward a year later and we learn he had left a $1M donation to be endowed. Another board member and friend of the deceased, tried to get me to use half of the funds to run a challenge campaign. He wanted me to tell donors that every donation would be matched by this bequest. However, there was nothing in the donation letter or designation that this was the donor's wishes so I refused. I explained the reasons why and he started yelling at me and even threatened to resign. I told him he could do as he wished.   

How was the dilemma resolved?  

I later spoke with the chair of the board and told him what had happened. He spoke with the board member in question and things went back to normal. No challenge campaign was done, the full amount was endowed, but the board member resented me (and I'm ok with that!).

What could be done to solve or prevent this dilemma in the first place? 

More training on ethics and the donor bill of rights at the board level would have probably prevented this situation, which is bizarre, because the board member in question is a seasoned wealth management professional and knows better.

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