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Posted on Feb 1, 2020

Be a Blessing

Be a Blessing

What does it mean to engage in ethical fundraising?

by Cathy Kits, SCSBC Director of Development ◊

The October issue of “Advancing Philanthropy” celebrated the inaugural Ethics Awareness Month by dedicating the issue to ethics-centered topics to assist fundraisers in addressing fundraising challenges. Much of the following information has been gleaned from the various articles to assist you in ensuring ethical fundraising practices in your school.

Aristotle talked about ethical flourishing and how virtuous acts require both conscious choice and moral purpose or motivation. There is no question that our schools have the desire to act ethically. However, between that desire and the ability to actually do so, lie challenges such as goal pressures, situations without clear solutions, and sometimes a lack of understanding of the ethical decisions around fundraising and donor stewardship. Is your school “engaging in mindful practice and sound ethical decision making” when it comes to fundraising? 1

For instance, consider the diverse makeup of your school community. How might racial and generational cultures play into your fundraising practices? Cultural ethics will affect giving and have an impact on how you raise funds and steward your donors.

Fundraising decisions require ethical reflection because they have an impact on people, and while recognized fundraising standards give guidance, a defined set of rules cannot answer every question that arises. 2 This is why it is so important for schools to establish objective criteria to guide fundraising decisions through policy development.

Gift Acceptance

This policy delineates how the school will make difficult decisions regarding the receipt of gifts. While it is difficult to make a decision to refuse or return a donation, there are situations where the value of the donation may not be worth the cost in terms of a potential loss of community trust or damage to the school’s reputation. A gift may also not align with the school’s vision or strategic priorities. 2(i)

Gift Restrictions

Sometime donors will wish to restrict their support. And while gifts that come with strings attached are not inherently bad, they can become problematic if the school is not careful. A policy that deals with restricted gifts will ensure that you are not caught off guard. It will set out guidelines that determine the situations in which a restricted gift would be accepted.

Gift Recognition

Establishing guidelines around how gifts will be recognized will help provide clarity to donors around expectations. A donor recognition policy ensures that those who support your school receive recognition that is appropriate, equitable, and consistent.

Donation Tracking

Beyond ensuring accurate tax receipting, a policy for tracking donations will assist your school in analyzing donor retention, average gift sizes and donation growth rates. These fundraising metrics will give insight into how effective your school is at stewarding your donors, help the school to better understand them and their giving behaviour and help your school set realistic annual fundraising goals.

Donor Privacy

Development professionals are required to respect the privacy of donors and protect the confidentiality of all privileged information.”1(i) A policy to ensure donor privacy needs to answer four questions. What donor information should the school collect? Who should have access to the information? How will the information be protected? How will the information be stored? 2(ii)

Conflict of Interest

This policy will assist your school in dealing with real conflicts of interest as well as the appearance of conflict in fundraising situations.

Beyond establishing policies, what are some other ethical considerations for fundraising?

Donor Information Data

It is important to keep accurate records on donor information. One part of embracing diversity and inclusion in fundraising involves using donors’ correct names and addressing them in the way they prefer. This can be challenging in our multicultural landscape, but getting their names right shows that we care about them. Schools have an ethical responsibility to their donors to know and use correctly the data they provide, including their current family situations. Stewarding donors well will also have an impact on their continued and future giving. 3

Needs and Values Alignment in Messaging

Schools fundraise to meet a variety of needs, whether that be for new learning spaces, educational programs, playgrounds or buildings. Funds may be raised through an annual giving fund or in a larger capital campaign. Whatever the situation, fundraising communications must reflect the need and the school’s core values: ethical considerations into how the school develops printed materials, uses social media, and engages in face to face meetings with donors are important as they reflect the level to which the fundraising project is values driven. This is not just best practice, it is also good ethics. 4

Donor Alignment

Working to ensure school and donor alignment prior to asking for a gift, particularly with major donors, will minimize the potential for ethical dilemmas. In addition, it is important to clarify expectations as to what will be accomplished with the gift and the type of recognition that will be given. 5

Ethics of Care

Is your school operating from a position of care as you engage with your donors, making decisions that engender trust, fairness and caring? An ethical framework can help inform your approach in this area by being responsive to their needs rather than simply pursuing a donation for the sake of securing the gift. 2(ii)

Establishing Trust

People are more likely to donate, and current donors are more likely to give more, if they trust you. Building credibility with your donors is important. Consider the following:

  • Ensure transparency regarding your school’s finances and fundraising practices. This inspires confidence and reflects a commitment to responsible, ethical fundraising practices.
  • Know how to calculate your fundraising expenses and accurately report them.
  • When accepting a restricted gift, honour the donor’s wishes for the use of the gift.
  • Keep your promise. If plans change, follow up with the donors and ask if a donation can be used differently than originally intended. This is important both ethically and in working to build trust.
  • Respect your donors by thanking them quickly once a gift is received.
  • Report on how their gift was used and its impact.
  • Manage your donors’ preferences, including requests to remain anonymous.
  • Listen donors into giving instead of talking them into it
  • Put more effort into building and sustaining relationships over the immediate gift. 5(i), 6

Putting these ethical considerations into practice will assist you in making sound decisions as you build strong, long term relationships to support the continued flourishing of your school.


Advancing Philanthropy, October 2019
1, 1(i), 1(ii) Michael J. Rosen, CFRE Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Fundraising
2, 2(i), 2(ii) Peter Lewis, Fundraising Excellence Must Be Guided by an Ethical Approach
3 T. Clay Buck, MFA, CFRE Donors ARE Data: The Ethical Implications of Data Hygiene
4 Melissa Rebecca Brogdon, Ethical Considerations for Storytelling and Fundraising
5, 5(i) Tony Beall, The Relationship-Driven Approach to Ethical Fundraising Nov 6, 2019
6 Roxanne Tackie, Building Credibility with Your Donors

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