Advancing Philanthropy

Ethics: The Intersection of Ethics and IDEA

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The recent social justice protests have reinvigorated the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion. It has called attention to ugly truths within the fundraising and philanthropy sectors: Black, Indigenous and people of color are underrepresented, boards and leadership teams don’t reflect the communities they serve, and advancement opportunities are often limited.

These conversations have presented us the opportunity to address, and hopefully overhaul, a system rooted in bias. But beyond the conversations, what is our ethical responsibility in advancing diversity in our industry? To address this issue—and where we go from here—several AFP Ethics Committee members share their thoughts on what role the Code of Ethical Standards plays in addressing the issues of anti-racism, justice and equity in the fundraising sector.

The Code of Ethical Standards is a document that lists do’s and don’ts related to ethical fundraising. How does inclusion and diversity fit into that document? Do we need to consider different approaches?

Marco A. Corona, chief development officer at One80 Place

The Code of Ethics has served us well when you consider its intended purpose. It legitimized our profession. It instilled public trust. It set up guidelines to mitigate conflicts of interest, currying favors or lining your pockets with donations. In essence, the Code is a document meant to be read by donors and adhered to by fundraisers. It does not guide us in addressing inequality and inequities in our profession and the nonprofit sector. It does not help fundraisers make difficult ethical decisions, such as accepting gifts from the same actors that help perpetuate the social injustices one tries to combat. The Code does not get referenced in hiring decisions. At least, it doesn’t yet.

Suppose we expand the definition and intended purpose of the Code of Ethics—beyond guidelines for the treatment of donors and the compensation of fundraisers—to become a document that protects all individuals involved in the exchange that is philanthropy. In that case, the Code could be monumental in the fight for inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

It could inform hiring practices to ensure organizations have greater representation of the communities or causes they serve. It could provide donors with clear expectations on how they are to behave and what they can or can’t influence. It could guide nonprofits and their boards on making tough decisions on whether to accept gifts that are not in line with their missions. It could unflinchingly ask what a charitable entity is doing to address the fact that women occupy only 30% of leadership positions, yet comprise 70% of the charitable workforce. I know it is idealistic to believe a document can do so much, but it is possible. At its core, our Code of Ethics should aim to protect not just donors, but fundraisers, charitable entities, and the clients, individuals, communities and causes served.

Should we focus on behavior or compliance when it comes to ethics, diversity and inclusion?

Liz LeClair, director, major gifts, QEII Foundation

My question is this: Who determines what behaviors are considered appropriate? For many years, our ethical guidelines and boundaries have been established by those in power, or closest to it. For many women, what was considered appropriate behavior was not equitable and required them to “play nice.” Those trying to create equity and diversity in our sector say polite behavior has been a barrier to effective change. Civility is a tool of oppression.

I think that compliance to a set of standards established by those afraid to offend will lead to further oppression and limitations. Our sector needs to embrace, rather than distance itself from, controversy. Some decisions we make in this process will inherently upset the status quo. I’d like to see some really brave statements on where we are heading as a sector and the metrics we want to work toward to achieve those goals.

We need to be OK with bold statements, take brave stances on equity and prepare for it to offend some members. Or we need to embrace the idea that our sector, and our professional associations, are becoming increasingly irrelevant and will face an eventual decline in memberships.

What is the role of organizational culture in the discussion of ethics, inclusion and diversity?

It depends on whether we are discussing the Association of Fundraising Professionals or charitable organizations as a whole. There is an inherent disconnect between AFP and organizations because it is so heavily based on individual membership. Perhaps a push toward organizational memberships (similar to how CFRE has a partner organization model) would allow for some work in this area. ACFRE and CFRE are good ways to express a commitment to ethics and guidelines; perhaps we can look at something similar for organizations as a whole?

I would also ask our members what is holding their organization back from being more equitable? I would be interested to know the answer.

How does having a strong commitment to diversity, inclusion and ethical practices boost an organization’s effectiveness? Impact?  Donor appeal? Brand?

LaKoya Rochell, director of programs and associate director of development for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy

Equity and diversity promotes and implements justice and fairness through redefining procedures, processes, and the distribution of resources by and within institutions or systems. One major goal related to tackling equity issues relies on addressing the root cause of disparities within our society and organizations. Inclusion focuses on strategies that promote awareness of group identities. As such, efforts support the full participation of all groups in the critical processes of decision-making within organizations, communities and society.

The issue of diversity requires urgent attention within the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. This is especially critical in achieving the goals of addressing both histories of exclusion and demographic changes within the United States. The philanthropic sector is also poised to serve as a major site of social change. With the right tools and data, the sector can play a leading role in driving the efforts for improving societal inequity and support greater inclusion, including supporting a more inclusive workforce and partnering with all sectors so that all communities have the opportunity to thrive.

A strong commitment to diversity, inclusion, and ethical practices positively boosts an organization’s effectiveness, has a positive impact within the organization, provides substantial donor appeal and can tremendously enhance the organization’s branding. It helps to establish a unique culture founded upon the principles of ethics, inclusion and diversity. In today’s current times, values and ethics matter more than ever and can manifest in a variety of ways. Diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to an organization, as is enforcing morals and values.

Tying diversity and inclusion policies to ethics and social responsibilities can increase recruiting and retention. Ethical best practices related to diversity and inclusion often readdress their values equation to ensure the mission is clear to their employees. An effective organization emphasizes behavior, not just compliance.

When diversity, inclusion and equity are at the forefront of an organization, leaders can demonstrate their commitment to these principles and ethics by integrating these entities into their business processes and operations. Organizations can do this by creating strategies (and hiring people) to address inclusion and diversity objectives at every level of the organization. An inclusion and diversity leader shows an organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and ethical practices and can strengthen the brand. It allows the nonprofit to build a diverse talent pipeline, retain employees, strengthen relationships with external stakeholders, improve operating results, and further efforts for many communities by creating a diverse environment that reflects the constituency and allows everyone to be engaged.

Should we focus on behavior or compliance when it comes to ethics, diversity and inclusion?

Robbe Healey, ACFRE, speaker, trainer and adjunct professor

Ethics. The focus here needs to be AFP’s Code and is it always an enforced Code. We need to pause, review and reflect on current needs in the sector and the role AFP can (or should) play. However, at the end of the process, regardless of how it evolves, we need to define the behaviors and continue to promote and enforce compliance when needed.

Diversity and Inclusion. This can be viewed through the following three lenses:

  1. AFP as an ethical, diverse and inclusive organization.
  2. Social justice and the role of the nonprofit sector in modeling ethics, diversity and inclusion globally.
  3. The global civil society and its collective desire to be ethical, diverse and inclusive.

AFP is, and has been, focused on continuing to evolve as a progressive organization characterized by ethical, diverse and inclusive structure, practice and culture. These are perpetual aspirations. No matter how good you think you are, you can always be better. And the principles are ever-evolving as well. We are in the midst of a particularly robust period of scrutiny and change, which heightens awareness and opportunity.

A strong commitment to diversity, inclusion, and ethical practices positively boosts an organization’s effectiveness, has a positive impact within the organization, provides substantial donor appeal and can tremendously enhance the organization’s branding.

A particularly formative experience for me came when I was AFP board chair and Richard Martin, CFRE, was treasurer. He is a thoughtful and inspiring presence. He doesn’t speak to everything, but when he does, it is relevant. The executive committee was discussing the strategic plan and inclusion, diversity, equity and access. Richard pointed out that when we talk about diversity, we talk about what separates us, and when we talk about inclusion, we talk about what unites us. It refocused my thinking. We need to understand diversity and how it got us to where we are today—and focus on being inclusive.

As it relates to culture, this is the starting point. In a nonprofit organization, we need to go as far back as the founding members and their call to action. How did their values, beliefs and ideals cause them to establish their organization(s)? For some, it might have been to be exclusive, not inclusive. To consider the U.S. process, the IRS, when granting 501(c)(3) status, does not have a strict diversity and inclusion standard. Many respected organizations are struggling because of their historic missions and they are now re-examining their cultures and planning for how to move forward. Change is hard enough; it is even more challenging for a group, such as your board. As an organization re-examines its past, it can affirm its relevant role(s) for today. Perhaps some may choose to dissolve rather than evolve. Those decisions will take courage too.

Should we focus on behavior or compliance when it comes to ethics, diversity and inclusion?

Tycely Williams, chief development officer, America’s Promise Alliance

“This” versus “that” is usually a difficult decision, especially when the “this” is behavior and the “that” is compliance. If we define behavior as how one acts and define compliance as the state of meeting rules, then it seems logical to assume that in order to comply one must behave according to a specific set of rules.

Members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals embrace the spirit of certain behaviors through an adherence to AFP’s Code of Ethical Standards. In essence, we agree to behave and comply. To comply with our Code of Ethical Standards, you must act with integrity, honesty and truthfulness; put philanthropic mission above personal gain; and behave in ways that respect others’ interests and well-being. How do you behave when your integrity, honesty and truthfulness uncover the false, dishonest and inaccurate behavior of a donor? How do you behave when placing the philanthropic mission above personal gain leads to an inability for you to file a complaint against repeated sexual harassment from a donor? How do you behave when the interests and well-being of others impede your interests and well-being?

Threaded between these two needles are complexities. Complexities that compound when we insert identities. The introduction of identities extends beyond consultant, staff and donor. Some identities behave outside expected rules. Some identities are not expected to constrain their behavior in order to comply. Ethical behavior is relative. What is “good” for one may be “bad” for another. What is “wrong” for others may be “right” for some. What is “mean” for me might be “nice” for you. Social and cultural identities are not equally valued. Ethics should never be relative. We must find a way to address the current inequity. You have the same rights afforded any human being—yes, even donors or your boss. Despite your gender, age, religion, class, nationality or personal identity, you should not be forced to comply to standards that don’t apply to everyone. Should we focus on behavior and compliance? Absolutely. Not for one, but for all.

What is the role of organizational culture in the discussion of ethics, inclusion and diversity?

An organization’s culture either opens a door for people and principles to grow or forces the people with principles out of the door. In order for organizations to actualize and demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity, people within the organization must think inclusiveness is important and then create an inclusive environment. Organizational culture is what you see, hear and sense based on invisible beliefs influencing visible behavior. I consider inclusiveness standard criteria for an ethical culture. I believe it is unethical to treat any person in a discriminatory or disparaging way. Just as organizations and individuals must adhere to AFP’s Code of Ethical Standards, I would like to incorporate specific language affirming our standards around inclusion, diversity, equity and access, holding organizations and individuals accountable to the same guidelines.

Sidebar: Holding Ourselves Accountable

What is a fundraiser’s responsibility to ethics and inclusion and diversity? Is it our colleagues? Our donors? Our constituents? Ourselves?

Birgit Smith Burton, executive director of foundation relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
I spent a great amount of time considering this question and coming up with multiple answers. Then I decided to pose this question to the people who have been very deeply involved in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access work for several years. They each shared important perspectives on the topic.

Christian Murphy, CFRE, chief development officer, Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta
A fundraiser is responsible for bringing their authentic self and voice to the profession. Those same values matter, especially when considering ethics, inclusion and diversity. As a fundraiser, no matter my race, I should uplift the voices inside and outside the room. We know that diverse thought is critical because it helps brings creativity, ingenuity and efficient problem-solving. However, when you recognize there aren’t diverse voices in the room, you must do your part to be informed and invite those voices into the conversation.

Kerry Watterson, CFRE, head of philanthropy and social impact, Fundraising Well
We have ethical responsibilities to all humankind—the constituents we serve in our communities, the donors we connect to our causes, our colleagues, and all those who will indirectly benefit from the work we do. Our profession uplifts our society, filling in the gaps and shining a light on services, systems and flawed practices. Our ethical approach to this is intrinsically tied to doing right by humanity. Looking at it through the lens of inclusion and diversity, our ethical responsibility is still for all humankind—celebrating and lifting up the diversity that makes our society so beautiful and demanding inclusion and access for everyone. We have the ability to move our world forward. It is not an easy path but holding true to our ethical responsibility to humankind will help us get there one step at a time.

Randi Sunshine, west coast director, American Friends of Israel Sport Center for the Disabled
Our primary responsibility is with our donors. As nonprofits, we rely upon their largesse. They entrust us with their charitable giving to ensure their sacrifices are honored in the way they intended—with professionalism and discretion. Regardless of what they are funding, we are the people they rely on to make sure their donations are distributed fairly among our constituents, programs and services. Fundraisers are the first line of defense against discrimination and bias in our organization because, with good stewardship, we will know when funders are backing away because of perceived bias or exclusivity.

James K. Phelps, ACFRE, principal, JKP Fundraising LLC
Ethics is taking into consideration the greater good for everyone involved and being sure nobody’s interests are compromised in the process. If required to rank these in order of whose interests are most important, it would be donor, constituents, colleagues and finally ourselves. There is one more entity though: the development profession in general—not just our colleagues, but the idea that we are part of a noble profession with an ethical standard. Without those standards, we are missing an element of being a profession.

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