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Ethics Matters in Nonprofit Fundraising


The title seems simple, shouldn't be much of a blog here, right? Unfortunately there is a need for this post. Recently, many of you have seen emails in your junk mail or inbox from an organization claiming to be a nonprofit, NANOE. Yesterday the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article on their shady business practices and questionable advice to nonprofit professionals. I am proud to say I was a part of that effort and have been a vocal critic of NANOE since its inception. When the president of an organization says things like, "It’s not that we don’t want ethics and accountability," Mr. LaRose says. "But you don’t want to design your best practices based on that as its cornerstone." and "With the nonprofits that we’re serving, they’ll say: ‘Jimmy, if we do what Nanoe is saying, we’ll have to stop serving kids.’ And you know what I say? I say, ‘Stop serving kids’ " I'll let you read the article and leave your comments below on what you think of this sham.

Warren Buffet always says "When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night's sleep for the chance of extra profits." I'm with him.

But it's not just NANOE that's the problem here. Ethics is the cornerstone by which we operate and must remain so. The reason ethics matters to us is that we live in an industry full of money and influence and our morals, our ethical decision making must stand above all else, without it not only do we lose donor support, we lose our entire direction as a profession. Ethical quandaries can start small, but once they invade an organization's culture, they become pervasive and counter-intuitive to the work that we do on a daily basis and everything we stand for. Let's take a small example, maybe an annual giving director is under immense pressure to raise dollars and donors so they start counting gifts that shouldn't, or fudging on denominators to "help" their alumni giving percentage. Then someone else sees that and thinks, hmmm, maybe that's the way to get ahead. So they put something in a gift agreement they know the organization can't deliver on, thinking, the donor will never know. Pretty soon you have a culture rife with a lack of accountability and lost from its mission and focused solely on the money. When we lost sight of our true purpose, even the best of us can get lost and be wayward.

We must uphold a moral standard and code, we must put ethics first in our daily work. Our donors are counting on us. Your ethics are your anchor point to keep you from drifting into that vast sea of doubt and questionable practices. Henry Ford once said that "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business". He's right. We're in the nonprofit business, a business that changes lives and inspires many people. We can't do that work without ethics and accountability, it's not just important to us, it's important to the people we serve.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel about the article? I would love to hear from you!

Cheers, Lynne

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