Ethical Standard Deep Dive: Standard 1

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Throughout the month of October, members of the AFP Ethics Committee will be addressing each of the standards in our Code of Ethics. We begin with Mark Hefter and Standard 1.

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Standard 1: Members shall not engage in activities that harm the members’ organizations, clients or profession or knowingly bring the profession into disrepute.

Mark: How should this standard guide the daily professional activities of fundraisers?  Some would argue that this provision is superfluous, or that it is fleshed out in subsequent sections of the AFP Code.  For example, Standard #2 reminds us of our fiduciary obligations to those we serve; Standard #5 calls on us to comply with all applicable laws; and so on.  However, Standard #1 is more than an introductory catch-all; as we will see below, it imposes on fundraisers an obligation to be guardians of the organizations we represent, those we serve and the fundraising profession itself.

Most professional codes of ethics or professional conduct have provisions similar to Standard #1. Both the American Bar Association and the American Institute of CPAs require its members to avoid doing anything that would harm the integrity or reputation of those professions.  Their codes of conduct make repeated reference to the public trust aspects of these professions, and the need for practitioners to safeguard this trust by acting always with integrity, loyalty and honesty.  These principles are equally true for the fundraising profession. 

Principle #1 appears together with the first 11 standards of the AFP Code under the heading “Public Trust, Transparency and Conflicts of Interest.”  When read in this context, Principle #1 requires fundraisers who subscribe to the AFP Code to become loyal advocates for and passionate supporters of the mission and goals of their organizations and their stakeholders.  More importantly, the last clause of Principle #1 reminds us that as fundraisers, we represent the entire profession, our duties of loyalty, advocacy and integrity extend to the profession as a whole, and our actions—for good or ill—inevitably will reflect on the profession. 

Therefore Standard #1 asks us to act accordingly, by maintaining the highest standards of integrity in both our personal and professional lives.  Examples include behaving consistently with our organizations’ core values, missions and goals; insuring that all fundraisers are accountable for ethical lapses; respecting the wishes and needs of stakeholders, even when they are contrary to ours; and using best professional practices when dealing with constituents, colleagues, the community and the public.


  • Members shall subscribe to and become advocates for the mission and goals of their organization.
  • Members shall conduct their personal and professional lives recognizing that their actions represent the organizations by which they are employed.
  • Members shall respect the wishes and needs of constituents, and do nothing that would negatively impact their social, professional, or economic well-being.

Examples of Ethical Behavior

  1. Refusing to participate in activities contrary to the organization’s mission and goals.
  2. Providing accurate and complete information to constituents regarding projects, programs, or other activities that they might support or endorse.
  3. Maintaining one’s education in philanthropy and fundraising best practices to convey appropriate advice to constituents, the community, and the public.

Example of Unethical Behavior

  1. Conveying false or exaggerated information.
  2. Neglecting to complete a transaction involving a contribution or pledge as promised.
  3. Ignoring unethical practices of others and not reporting same to organizational leadership or appropriate authorities (e.g., legal, AFP, etc.).
  4. Making public comments that are derogatory about leadership or organizational activities.

Supported by: 
The Claudia A. Looney Fund for Ethics in Fundraising
The Patricia F. Lewis Ethics Endowment Fund

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