Are your morals at the core of who you are and what you do? How do you navigate life when you feel your values are in conflict with your actions? For those who are fundraisers, these questions are part of the job and a cause for reflection. But before we get to reflection, let’s start with a fundraising folk tale: A fundraiser was asked by a board member whether a specific major gift was “tainted.” The fundraiser replied, “it ‘taint enough.” That’s on the one hand…
There are times when fundraisers – and nonprofit executives – have to make judgement calls in regard to gifts, leadership, and partnerships. Pressure may come from constituents, students, elected officials, other donors, and more. The points of contention can be political views; sources of the money/gift; the history of how the gift was developed; social views of the donor; moral conduct of the donor… How do you navigate potential objections and implications, compliance with gift acceptance policies, and your own moral compass?
As a fundraiser, you can make some decisions in private. You can personally decide which prospective donors to pursue and which to overlook. But you know you are making a value judgement. For example, many institutions accepted large gifts from Jeffrey Epstein while others declined to pursue him as a donor, and when approached by him, declined to accept his generosity. Who would you turn to in such a situation? Are your values and morals the deciding force behind which donors are pursued or is there a consensus amongst organizational leaders? Does your nonprofit have gift acceptance policies that provide guidance? Could the Association of Fundraising Professionals Statement of Ethics help you navigate the situation? These both provide professional and organizational guidance; you, on the other hand, have your own morals that guide decisions you make at work and throughout your life.
In the abstract, we can stand by our moral principles, but what about when dealing with a “real life” situation and gifts that could make an important impact? In this time of heightened public scrutiny, we need to be prepared to talk about our decision-making processes. And we need to be prepared to live with ourselves even when we don’t live up to 100% of our ideals.
Mel was once asked about his job. He replied, “I am a fundraiser. I raise funds for the hospital.” The person replied, “Oh, you’ll do anything for money.” It was a hurtful moment. They were implicitly saying, ‘You’ll lower your standards and do anything for money.” The truth is that most fundraisers are very ethical. But you may need to look in the mirror and ask yourself if this is the right profession for you. You will constantly be tested throughout your career, having to balance your values against the greater good. You will need to make room within your nonprofit for non-conformity and a diversity of perspectives. You will have to ask yourself if your job is to make moral calls or to secure funding and resources?
Copyright 2023 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Video and phone conferencing services always available. Let us help you grow your fundraising. Call us at (901) 522-8727 or visit www.saadandshaw.com.