Ethical Fundraising

My husband recently asked me if I had ever been personally affected by a “me, too” moment. Honestly, in 30 years of nonprofit fundraising, I couldn’t really point to a specific serious incident. Of course, there had been flirting and a few invitations that could have gone awry, but I was always able to take myself out of the situation and avoid being alone with the culprit(s) afterwards.

I was reminded of my own personal experience as I listened to Dr. Edward L. Queen of Emory University who recently spoke to our Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) chapter on ethical fundraising.

I thought about the time I discovered one of my employees was embezzling funds from our employer. I offered to resign since it happened on my watch, but my resignation was denied. After all, I didn’t do it and apparently it had been going on since long before I arrived. I was so incensed! The employee was released but not prosecuted and I wasn’t even allowed to mark the record as “do not re-hire.” The organization wanted to avoid a potential lawsuit. That same employee showed up again some time later employed elsewhere in the organization and again being in a position to handle money.

While there have been times I have been paid less than a man or been held back due to my age or other excuse, there was one time I believe I was hired because I was married with children. After I was hired I discovered that the person I replaced had been having an affair with one of our chief volunteers. I was however, invited to join a group of volunteers who dined weekly at a fancy restaurant for an expensive meal. A volunteer turned in his expenses every time for a tax deduction although I did not consider this a budget-relieving expenditure related to our mission. Luckily, my boss supported me, and I did not have to go to the dinners anymore. It did not stop the volunteer from continuing to request reimbursement or a tax receipt, but I never signed off on them.

All of us make mistakes and none of us is above reproach. We do have to be aware that 49% of Americans do not trust nonprofits. We need to consider our actions and how they affect our ability to raise funds to support the mission and goals of the organizations we serve.