Ethical Standard Deep Dive: Standard 6

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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. Grant Gilbert looks at Standard 6.

< See All Ethical Standard Deep Dives

Standard 6: Members shall recognize their individual boundaries of professional competence.

Grant: “I don’t know.” These are some of the most powerful words in any language.  We often mistakenly view this phrase as a sign of weakness rather than what it is – a sign of strength and honesty.  It is also a powerful tool to build trust with donors.

The importance of “I don’t know” is at the core of AFP’s Standard 6.  Fundraisers are professionals always. Sometimes we become as knowledgeable as subject area experts by default.  But, we as fundraising professionals are not the experts.  It is when we confuse knowledge of our organization or sector with wanting to be seen as the expert that we start to slide down a slippery ethical slope. 

The next time that you’re confronted with a question the answer to which you might know a little – but not a lot – about, don’t be afraid to qualify your answer.  You will feel better about it, the donor will respect your honesty and the byproduct will be trust that you’ve built for your organization and your cause. 


  • Members shall be forthcoming and truthful about their professional experience and qualifications.
  • Members state their professional qualifications in a manner that gives a clear and accurate picture of their skills, capabilities, level of expertise, experience, performance, and credentials.
  • Members clearly describe the parameters of their roles within the larger financial development efforts of any organization with which they have been affiliated.

Examples of Ethical Behavior

  1. Being honest and above reproach concerning one’s duties and responsibilities, and practicing an ethical approach to employment in the field.
  2. Correcting any misstatement of one’s education or experience, performance, and awards, even when not responsible for the error.

Examples of Unethical Behavior

  1. Inflating one's resume.
  2. Exaggerating one's role in fundraising results.
  3. Omitting from one's employment application short tenure or unsuccessful employment.
  4. Taking credit for the work of others.
  5. Indicating on one’s resume or other materials that one is licensed or certified by a particular organization or state when one is not.

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

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