Donovan's Donor Diary

If you are trying to raise money for your favorite charity/cause, Donovan's Donor Diary provides you with facts, tips and best practices on how to raise millions of dollars for people, pets and the planet.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Is Your Organization Trusted?

In this Blog: Three Resources for Building Trust & Confidence

Remember the scandal involving United Way President William Aramony in the early 90's and how contributions to the United Way declined?

Fast forward to the present and the even more extensive media coverage of the Madoff scandal. Many charities, some right here in Florida, had significant losses in their investment/endowment funds due to Madoff's ponzi scheme. Today, building trust and confidence among prospects and donors is more important than ever.

In this Blog we explore, with the help of three special resources, how to create an ethical nonprofit organization so that current and future donors trust you. After all, those who give to your organization expect their gifts to be used in a prudent and cost effective manner.

So how do nonprofits create this level of trust?

The short answer is -- by encouraging ethical behavior among everyone involved in your organization. Here are three resources and suggestions that can help you build that trust.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals Code-of-Ethics and Donor Bill of Rights available at:

The Ethics of Asking -- Dilemmas in Higher Education Fund Raising, by Deni Elliot, John Hopkins University Press

Compass for Uncharted Lives, by Donald J. Kirby, S.J. Syracuse University Press

A few thoughts on each...

Paulette Maehara, National President of AFP, recently spoke to the Central Florida Chapter of AFP on Weaving Ethics Into Your Organization's Fundraising. She got everyone's attention when she asked the question, "How do we view ethics?"

The answer -- often times in a negative sense and during a controversy or scandal. Citing a Brookings Institution survey, she noted that 70% of Americans say charities waste a "great deal" or "fair amount" of money. That's not a typo--70%!

Then this finding -- only 10% said charities are "very good" at spending money wisely. OUCH!

See survey at:

Donors have lots of options today to check on how much of each dollar they give goes to programs and services, such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator websites, according to Maehara.

These same donors also have rights. Maehara says nonprofits should use the Donor Bill of Rights as a guide. For example, one of the Ten Rights states that donors have a right to see financial statements.

Then there is the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Practice which encourages members to aspire to practice their profession with integrity, honesty and trustfulness. In short, put philanthropic mission above personal gain. AFP is the only association of fund raisers that requires members to sign a special card that indicates that by accepting membership in AFP one agrees to adhere to this Code. Does your fundraising staff belong to AFP, Association of Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), the Council for the Advancement & Support of Education (CASE) or a similar association with such a code?

In her book, The Ethics of Asking, author Deni Elliot makes the point that unless fundraising professionals strive for more ethical behavior, they and the institutions they represent invite unwanted media exposure and loss of their credibility with their constituencies. Who wants that, especially during a recession?

Elliot sees fundraisers as "facilitators of relationships between actual or potential donors and the institution." As such, they must not "insert themselves between the institution and the donor."

In my 1996 review of Elliot's book, I noted the moral imperative of fundraising. "The public trust is much too important to ignore what many of us have neglected for years, i.e., asking ourselves, 'Are we really doing the right thing?' " Elliot is concerned that fundraisers: obey all laws; not deceive; do what is appropriate.

My Jesuit friend, Father Donald Kirby, makes the case in his book, Compass for Uncharted Lives, that students today are being prepared to handle technical tasks but are not prepared to meet the moral and spiritual challenges of their personal and professional lives.

As a Jesuit priest and professor, he is troubled by that. Father Kirby makes the case that everyone involved in higher education, not just the professors who teach students, can play a role in enhancing values that lead to actions that are ethical. This can be done by following a voluntary and collaborative model he developed as director of the Center for Advancement of Values Education (CAVE) at LeMoyne College, Syracuse, New York.

Father Kirby's model should be of interest to grant making foundations, as they make value judgments when considering grant applications. One question grant makers might want to ask is: "What do we value and how does making a grant to a particular organization help us achieve that value?"

In closing, ponder these questions:

How do you measure the level of trust of your donors and prospective donors?

Whose job is it to build trust and confidence for your organization?

Is becoming a more ethical organization a strategic goal of your organization?

Is that goal and process being driven by the professional fundraiser, board, staff and all volunteers engaged in the work of the organization?

What better time to bolster donor trust and confidence in your organization than now?

Remember, people give to organizations they perceive as worthy of their generosity.

All the best for continued success. Let me hear from you.

Jim Donovan, President
407 321 0024


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