President's Perspective Blog

Mike's Monday Message: It's Ethics Awareness Month!

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Ethics

If it’s October, it must be Ethics Awareness Month!

How important is ethics in fundraising? Welllllll, one of THE most important reasons AFP was founded in 1960 was to create a code of ethics for the fundraising profession. Our founders believed and wrote into AFP’s Articles of Incorporation that the fundraising profession should have a member organization that:

“…promote(s) and maintain(s) high standards of public service and conduct.” 

Furthermore, AFP’s first president, Dr. Abel Hanson of Columbia Teacher’s College, wrote in his first President’s Letter to our members the following:

“When those engaged in a given line of work begin … to set experience and ethical standards for their own performance and for others who aspire to their line of work, another condition of professionality exists.”

Our code of ethics has been instrumental to the growth of our profession, demonstrating to the public how important principles such as honesty, transparency and respect are to fundraising and philanthropy. Even today, 61 years later, our Strategic Plan has, as one of its four strategic pillars, our desire to “champion ethical fundraising practices." In addition, members understand the importance of having a code of ethics and take great pride in abiding by one. In every survey, our Code of Ethics is ranked very highly as a resource that members can point to demonstrate their commitment to ethical fundraising and service to donors, the community and the people they serve.

AFP started Ethics Awareness Month three years ago to celebrate the importance of ethics in fundraising. Make no mistake, ethics is what makes fundraising possible. Without the trust and confidence that documents like the AFP Code of Ethics create and sustain, why would the public ever put its faith in charities? Why would people ever want to give away their money—voluntarily!— to causes if they thought their money wasn’t going to be used ethically and appropriately?

Ethics has been even more important during the pandemic. Our organizations have been asked to provide even more programs to meet surging demand, yet our resources have not been increasing equally. We might feel pressure from our bosses or boards to cut ethical corners and take gifts that might not be in the best interest of our organizations. The Ethics Code, along with the AFP Ethics Committee, are important tools to help ensure we make the most ethical decisions possible that do not jeopardize our organizations and our work. 

This year, we’ll be featuring four different ethical scenarios—one each week in October—and asking fundraisers to provide us their commentary and opinions. We want to have lots of conversation online and in your chapters about these and other situations that you might face every day in your work. 

But ethics and Ethics Awareness Month are about the entire profession, not just AFP. I’m so proud that the entire global profession of fundraising comes together to celebrate Ethics Awareness Month, and we’ll be featuring ethical resources from different organizations around the world, including the Institute of Fundraising, APRA, the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners and others. Thank you to all the organizations who are joining us in highlighting ethics in October. 

The phrase "we are only as strong as our weakest link" isn’t my favorite, but it very much applies to ethics. Public trust and confidence in charities are the result of the work of everyone in the fundraising profession. No matter our title, no matter our particular job and responsibilities—we all have a duty to abide by the highest ethical standards possible in the profession. 

But abiding by ethics isn’t just a duty. It should also be a celebration, because ethics makes everything we do possible. Ethics allows us to have important conversations with donors about exactly how they want to make a difference in the world and the best way to do it. Ethics allows us to work confidently with volunteers and supporters so they can serve as ambassadors for our causes. Ethics allows us to have the impact that we do—the impact that changes the world. That’s why fundraising is the IMPACT profession—because of ethics!

Be sure to check out our Ethics Awareness Month resource page for articles, interviews and much more. Be sure to check our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram pages, along with AFP Connect—that’s where we’ll be holding conversations about each of our ethical scenarios throughout the month.

And finally, thank you!  Thank you for treating donors, staff, and the people you serve ethically, and thank you for your commitment to ethical fundraising. 

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