Laying the Foundation for Ethical Fundraising

By Chelsey Souza, CFRE

Do you ever wonder exactly where your values of ethical fundraising came from? Was it there to begin with? Was it learned? Was it one experience? Or, a compilation of experiences over a period of time? I didn’t know it then, but I clearly identified the moment more than decade after it happened. I was a development associate, my first fundraising job at the age of 23. We were expecting a large check from a major donor by mail. While the check had arrived, somewhere during the cash receipting process, after the photocopying, it went missing. The manager responsible for cash receipting had an idea, “Let’s just tell him the check never arrived – it was lost in the mail, then he’ll send another.” Before I had a chance to think of next steps, my boss, the director of development, exclaimed calmly but with authority, “There is never a time to lie to a donor, never.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, not far beyond doing what my boss says is the right thing to do in this moment. For in that instance, we had a choice, and the easier choice would have been calling the donor to say the check never arrived. The more difficult choice however, the right choice, was transparency. The donor, in appreciation of our honesty, mailed in another check for $325,000.

There were other bits of wisdom this boss imparted to me, yet this particular experience sticks out as having truly laid the foundation for embracing ethical fundraising. And, one I have fallen back on when faced with a variety of dilemmas over my career – transparency is always the right answer.

No matter where your values of ethics come from, be sure to embrace them, and trust that ethical fundraising leads to the most successful philanthropic development.