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Code Provides Standards, Enforcement, Resources

(June 9, 2008) AFP membership not only provides the benchmark code of ethics for the profession, but a host of resources and materials members can use to addresses ethical questions and queries.

Drafting a code of ethics for professional fundraisers was the first order of business for the founders of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 1960, and ethics remains a top priority for AFP, serving as a guide and major asset to its members. To this day, members consistently rate the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards as the most important benefit of belonging to the association.

“When you set out to build a profession, as AFP’s founders did almost fifty years ago, having a grounding in strong ethical principles is the first step in building credibility and helps fundraisers stake their claim as vital players in the philanthropic community,” said Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO, AFP. “It’s necessary that we as fundraisers pledge ourselves to high ethical standards. As the nonprofit sector grows ethics only becomes more important.”

Not Just Enforcement

A code of ethics, though, cannot be effective unless there is strong enforcement of its standards and actual consequences for violating it. That is why the AFP Ethics Committee works together with the full association to enforce the code of ethics, ensuring members are held to the same standards set forth in its guidelines.

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.

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.

“One of the biggest misunderstandings about the Ethics Committee is that members believe it is purely an enforcement body,” said Maehara. “But the committee spends a lot of time advising members and providing them guidance and insight. Members should be aware that they can contact the Ethics Committee and receive guidance, free of charge, when they are faced with situations and questions related to ethics.”

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.

Maehara also noted that there is a significant amount of material about ethics on the AFP website, and that members can receive information about ethical issues free of charge from the AFP Fundraising Resource Center.

Keeping the Code Relevant

The Ethics Committee is responsible for ensuring that the code is applicable to the current fundraising environment and that it reflects the highest ethical standards. The committee also works for increasing awareness of the code among 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.

In 2007, important additions were made to the code of ethics that apply to businesses that work in the nonprofit sector. Businesses are now invited to join AFP as members in the new business member category and take an active role in AFP. By signing their adherence to AFP’s code of ethics, business members show their clients that they are invested in philanthropy and the nonprofits they work with.

The complete Code of Ethical Principles and Standards and a list of enforcement procedures are available on the AFP website.

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