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AFP Awards Levis Research Grant on Fundraising Ethics

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Sarah and Matt

The AFP Research Council has awarded a $5,000 Wilson C. “Bill” Levis Fundraising Research Grant through the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – U.S. to Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE and Matthew Aplin-Houtz, MCS-P, MM, MBA to conduct a multi-study investigation into fundraising ethics and the establishment of a normative theory of ethical behavior and responsibility for fundraisers.

Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE
Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE

The AFP Code of Ethics focuses on the duties of a fundraiser, primarily in their interaction with donors. It is rooted in the general idea that people should be treated with dignity and respect. However, there are many ideological ways people might think about ethics. There is not a single normative theory (a set of broad yet specific moral principles) that underpins the Code of Ethics. A shared normative theory for the field would lead to more clarity for fundraisers on what to do when faced with specific ethical dilemmas which don’t have a simple solution or are not as directly covered within the Code of Ethics.

The goal of the research will be to develop Ethics of Care, which stems from an awareness of interconnections and is rooted in relationships, as a normative theory to underpin professional ethics in fundraising and the nonprofit sector in general. According to Willey and Aplin-Houtz, Ethics of Care is an ideal ethical framework for professions rooted in care and relationships. Since relationships are a key component of how fundraising is accomplished, they suggest an ethical theory that centers relationships is most fitting for the field. Ethics of Care has been applied to a number of professions, most notably healthcare.

“By developing a scale and measuring impact on fundraising, we will provide data that will be important for nonprofit leaders to have when deciding to invest in further ethical training,” wrote the researchers in their grant request. “We will provide evidence and tools that will allow for the development of more sophisticated texts and training in ethics for the profession. The research would provide new framing and context to deepen those conversations and provide new educational tools to practitioners.”

The research output will include developing a survey scale that can be used to measure a given fundraising professional’s alignment with Ethics of Care, and then testing the effect on an organization’s fundraising performance of having staff in alignment with this normative theory based on the scale.

Willey is a nonprofit executive, fundraising consultant and a member of the Rogare Fundraising Think Tank Council and DBA student at University of Missouri – St. Louis. She holds a Master’s in Nonprofit Management from Washington University and is a CFRE-certified fundraising professional.

Matthew Aplin-Houtz, MCS-P, MM, MBA
Matthew Aplin-Houtz, MCS-P, MM, MBA

“It is an immense honor to receive the Wilson C. “Bill” Levis Fundraising Research Grant Award,” said Willey. “I straddle the worlds of practice and academia—I call myself a ‘pracademic’—and as a long-time fundraiser and member of AFP, it means a lot to get my first academic grant from this organization. I am excited to explore ethics in our field more deeply. AFP is doing so much on the practitioner side to advance ethics in our field, and it is my hope that the research I conduct can inform and amplify that work.”

Aplin-Houtz is COO for Body Balance Physical Medicine, a business advisor for the Indiana Small Business Development Center and researches organizational behavior. He is a Current DBA student at University of Missouri – St. Louis, has an MBA from Indiana State University and possesses Master of Music degrees from Butler University and University of Maine.

“Receiving a Wilson C. ‘Bill’ Levis Fundraising Research Grant Award instills in me an overwhelmingly large sense of joy to have the honor of support to advance the field of fundraising ethics for nonprofits,” said Aplin-Houtz. “The responsibility and honor this grant carries is beyond motivational to drive me to live up to not just the scholarly expectations of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, but also the field at large. I cannot wait to get to work!”

The full study should be complete by the end of 2023, and the results will be disseminated both in academic literature and directly to practitioners through the AFP website, Advancing Philanthropy magazine and other outlets.

For more about the AFP Wilson C. "Bill" Levis Fundraising Research Grant program, click here.

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