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AFP Member Benefit: AFP's Code of Ethics and the Ethics Committee

(Dec. 6, 2004) One of the top reasons members join AFP is its Code of Ethical Principles and Standards (the Code), but many may not realize the benefits that come with abiding by a code that is enforced.

The foundation of philanthropy is ethical fundraising, and a key mission of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is to advance and foster the highest ethical standards through its Code.

'Accountability is critical to the sector and always has been,' says Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO, AFP. 'The most important contribution to accountability has been the code; it's such a critical element of our mission and it is a model for the entire sector.'

AFP's Code is an important tool for members because it provides an unbiased standard by which all individuals involved in the fundraising process can measure themselves. Using the Code, practitioners can identify what activities or processes may be questionable. Because the Code is so well established and respected, members can point to the standards in the Code to bolster their arguments when discussing ethics.

'As someone who has been in the profession for 25 years, it really is a crutch for me,' says Senator Terry Mercer, CFRE, of Ottawa. 'Sometimes, people will unintentionally stray from an ethical practice and if you can say that, 'No, as a member of AFP and a signatory to the code, I can't do this' it really makes the situation much easier to handle.'

But no code of ethics will be effective unless there is strong enforcement of its standards and actual consequences for violating it. That's the role of the AFP Ethics Committee.

Putting Teeth in the Code

One of the important responsibilities of the Ethics Committee is to enforce the code. Penalties for violating the code may include a letter of reprimand, censure and prohibition against holding association and chapter office in AFP for a specified period, suspension of AFP members for a stated period, and/or permanent public expulsion from AFP membership including withdrawal of AFP-sanctioned credentials.

'We're the only organization that enforces a code of ethics for fundraising and philanthropy,' says Maehara. 'Unless we have teeth, the potential for abuse is great. We have enforced our code with sanctions, and we do expel members and take away their credentials and publish their names, much as they do in medicine or law. This makes fundraisers accountable to their organization and the profession, as well as to the public."

But the Ethics Committee doesn't spend all of its time enforcing the Code. According to Ethics Committee Chair Eugene Tempel, Ed.D., CFRE, one of the committee's primary responsibilities is to ensure the code continues to remain relevant to current practice and interpret the code as new situations and techniques arise.

'The committee is responsible for ensuring that the code is not just adequate to the current fundraising environment, but that it reflects the highest ethical standards possible,' said Tempel.

The committee also works for increasing awareness about the code to AFP members and the public. Members of the committee frequently give presentations at conferences and workshops about the code and how it applies to everyday situations.

Percentage-Based Compensation, Donor Relationships Still Popular Questions

But despite the growing number of specializations and new techniques, Tempel says that two of the most basic issues in fundraising continue to generate the most questions: percentage-based compensation and the donor/fundraiser relationship.

'The question of salary and bonus issues and how to apply them ethically is an extremely popular topic,' said Tempel. 'Interpretation of the donor-fundraiser relationship and who owns that relationship - the fundraiser or the charity - is also quite common.'

The Ethics Committee is happy to respond to questions from members and provide advice about particular situations. These questions typically go through the AFP President and CEO's office and then to the full committee if additional interpretation is needed. But Tempel cautions members that the committee can only provide advice on issues related to the code.

'We can only address interpretations and possible violations of the code,' Tempel said. 'People may make stupid or costly mistakes, but that's not something the committee will deliberate on. For example, the committee cannot be helpful if a member has signed a contract for services for a fixed fee that seems out of line with industry standards.'

Visit the Ethics section of the AFP wbsite for more information or to download AFP's Code of Ethical Principles and Standards.

A query may be submitted via a confidential letter or memorandum to the office of the AFP President and CEO or telephone 800-666-3863 in the U.S. and Canada and 866-837-1948 in Mexico.

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