Guides & Resources

Ethical Dilemmas in Fundraising: Scholarships Not Following Donor Intent

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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 worked for a community college foundation where I was responsible for entering gifts for scholarships including endowment payments from our local community foundation for scholarships. The gift and bequest agreements were kept on file and specifically outlined how the payments were to be used. I had not worked there very long when I noticed that it appeared that the payments were not going towards the scholarships intended by the donors (even considering administrative costs). I thought it was just a clerical error but when I asked the management (including the executive director) about it they seemed very uneasy about my questions (I was not accusatory at all). The bookkeeper started crying. I reached out to colleagues who said that my choice was to call the DA or quit. 

How was the dilemma resolved?  

I chose to quit because I did not want to negatively affect the organization's ability to raise funds for, and grant scholarships in, our community. Bad press would have been devastating for the organization. There is new leadership at the college foundation now and I believe it has been resolved by new leadership.

Were you able to use the AFP Code of Ethics?

There were other things that didn't seem quite right and many of my colleagues were resigning. The Code of Ethics was helpful but I really wish there was an AFP Ethics Ombudsman who I could have talked to and perhaps could have raised my concerns with the organization. In a small community, it is very hard to deal with a bad situation as you know the donors, their families, the board members, and the beneficiaries of local nonprofits. We are committed to our work and do not want to do any harm.  


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