Ethical Standard Deep Dive: Standard 12

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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. Today’s Deep Dive, written by Fernando Rodríguez Hernández focuses on Standard 12 and the accuracy of solicitations and other communications materials.

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Standard 12: Ensure that all solicitation and communication materials are accurate and correctly reflect the organization’s mission and use of solicited funds.


Transparency is all. This should be your mantra every time you are writing a solicitation, presenting your project to a new donor and reporting the impact of the donation that you received.

We have seen a marked increase in scrutiny by donors, the media, the public, and governments regarding the use of solicited funds. To maintain the trust of these entities, especially your donors, it is essential to ensure that your solicitation and communication materials are accurate. Anything viewed as misleading (whether it was intentional or unintended) will lose the trust of your donors and harm your organization’s brand.

To provide the necessary level of transparency, strive to find the best way of communicating information to your donors in a clear and succinct manner. Using tools like infographics and concise monthly reports will keep them interested, informed, and satisfied about the progress of your work. And providing accurate information on a regular basis will enhance the donors’ trust in your work and help them understand the realities of your work and impact. Your donor retention will grow, and you will easily measure their engagement.


  • Members shall ensure, to the best of their ability, that the materials upon which individuals make decisions about supporting the member's organization are direct and truthful.
  • Members shall be forthcoming and accurate when describing their organization's mission, needs, programs, goals, objectives, and achievements.

Examples of Ethical Behavior

  1. Including in solicitation materials only statements that are accurate and facts that can be documented.
  2. Omitting from solicitation materials information that may be confusing, inaccurate, or incapable of being documented.
  3. Including in solicitation materials only those endorsements actually made by an individual or entity.
  4. For sponsorship-type organizations (e.g., animal sponsorships, child sponsorships, etc.), clearly and prominently stating how the contributions/sponsorships will be used.

Example of Unethical Behavior

  1. Misrepresenting the organization's mission: "The Theater’s mission is to make the performing arts available to all citizens of the city," when in actuality the price of admission excludes the economically disadvantaged and no free performances or scholarships are offered.
  2. Misrepresenting facts to justify a case for support: "More than 20 homeless runaways are turned back on the streets every night," when, in fact, those 20 are absorbed by other agencies.
  3. Misrepresenting the size, breadth and source of support in order to validate cause and case: "The overwhelming majority of neighborhood associations feel this need should be met," when, in fact, presentations at neighborhood association meetings elicited only head nodding from the majority of the audience.
  4. Misrepresenting anticipated results in order to elicit an emotional response: "Your contribution will save a life" instead of, "You can help save a life."
  5. Misrepresenting achievements.
  6. Misrepresenting intent: "If we do not succeed in this campaign effort, we will have to close our doors," when partial success will allow for continuance albeit with reduced staff.
  7. Misrepresenting philosophy: "We offer service to all needy citizens regardless of race, creed or ethnicity," when, in reality, choices are made along ethnic lines.
  8. Misrepresenting facts about numbers of clients served, demographics of clients served, activities completed or programs planned.
  9. Manipulating children, animals, the ill, the elderly, etc.: "The child in this picture was ( ) and has a ninety percent chance of becoming a ( )."
  10. Creating mailings or other materials that mimic official government mailings or billing notices through deceptive appearance and content of materials.

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

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