Graphic: Arrow Join Now! Graphic: Arrow MY AFP Profile Graphic: Arrow AFP Canada Graphic: Arrow AFP Mexico Graphic: Star MAKE A GIFT


AFP Think Tanks on Fundraising Research: Linking Research to Practice

Fundraising research has not kept pace with the explosive growth of charitable organizations and fundraising personnel. More attention is needed to apply new research to the practice of fundraising, to promote practitioner-researcher interaction, and to encourage dissemination of research findings.

To bridge this gap, AFP has instituted a series of Think Tanks on Fundraising Research.

Think tank philosophy is the assertion that the often-cited gap between practitioner and researcher is misportrayed as a gulf. In reality, most fundraising researchers are themselves practitioners who have to seek funds, manage at least a small unit, and communicate with constituents. Practitioners are almost always seeking and conducting informal data collection and research, reviewing research findings, and reading the literature as they go about their practice.

The AFP Research Council held Think Tanks in 1995, 19992002, 2005, 2008 and 2011 (click to see details below).

2011 Think Tank: Regulation, Ethics and Philanthropy

The final report of the 2010-2011 Think Tank is now available.  There is a discussion guide and PowerPoints for replicating a mini-think tank at the chapter level. To learn more, contact the AFP Professional Advancement Division at

Ethics is fundamental to any profession, especially for those who engage in doing the public good through private action. Philanthropic fundraising is possible because of public trust in the work of nonprofits. Public trust can be reinforced by properly understood enforcement and standardization of polices. Laws and government regulation of nonprofits often come about in response to a lack of ethical conduct in the management of nonprofits, in particular in the aftermath of high profile scandals.

The 2010-2011 Think Tank blended webinars with a meeting held February 3-4,2011 in Orlando, Florida to address these issues, and to generate recommendations for individual fundraisers, for AFP, and for the fundraising profession in three broad areas: education and formation, management and leadership, and advocacy and public policy. 

Funding for the Think Tank was provided by the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy through a generous grant from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, Inc., of Winter Park, Florida. AFP and the AFP Foundation gratefully acknowledge the exemplary leadership and ongoing support from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation in funding a series of four strategic initiatives in past five years directed to advance ethical and effective fundraising. AFP is also grateful to the ASAE Foundation for its support of the opening networking reception.

Audrey Kintzi, ACFRE, executive vice president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Minnesota, who chaired the Think Tank Planning Group, described it as “an unique opportunity to discuss integration of ethics and regulation in the nonprofit sector including issues such as how ethical practice strengthen charities; whether external regulation would improve or diminish the value-added work of nonprofits; and how a strong ethical stance can strengthen the sector so that external oversight is less necessary.“

The themes of the Think Tank engaged participants to consider the implications of moral courage in ethical fundraising, as introduced by Rushworth Kidder, Ph.D., president and founder of the Institute for Global Ethics.  Melanie Leslie, professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, challenged participants to think about how to prevent and manage conflicts of interest in the governance of nonprofit organizations. And Michael DeLucia, trustee of the Agnes Lindsay Trust, and former director of charitable trusts for the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, spoke about the relationship between government regulations and charitable fundraising. 

Think tank participants formed small groups to discuss three case studies related to the issues raised by presenters.  After reports of these breakout sessions, the group convened for a final discussion facilitated by Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg College.  In this session, participants developed recommendations for individual fundraisers, for AFP, for the fundraising profession in three broad areas: education and formation, management and leadership, and advocacy and public policy.  Those recommendations are: 

For philanthropic fundraising professionals, who need resources to help them grow in their understanding and practice of ethical fundraising... 

(1)    Continue the important ethics education work now underway in the creation of the Ethics Assessment Inventory Tool, and aggressively pursue and support the development of additional ethics education resources - including, but not limited to, curriculum, case studies, reference guides, and web-based materials - that help fundraisers develop more nuanced capacities to analyze ethical situations and make ethical decisions.

(2)    Develop in these ethics education resources the sort of teaching methods that help professionals move beyond ethics simply as compliance to codes and standards to a conversational, narrative approach that grounds ethical decision-making in the complexities and wider contexts in which professional work is pursued. 

For non-profit executives and board members, who need resources to help them understand the claims of ethical fundraising and its links to other legal and regulatory issues... 

(3)    Forge a partnership with other like-minded organizations (e.g., Independent Sector, BoardSource, and Association of Governing Boards) to develop resources to promote best practices and educate nonprofit sector leaders about the claims of ethical fundraising on governance and organizational management.

(4)    Develop a campaign that helps AFP members (and other fundraising professionals) promote these resources in the organizations they serve, including accessible educational materials, templates for organizational policies and practices related to fundraising, and reference guides that help sector leaders recognize the links between ethics, the law and regulatory requirements. 

For the wider public, that needs clear, concise and targeted information about ethical fundraising and philanthropy... 

(5)    Develop and launch a highly visible public image campaign that promotes ethical fundraising through the use of concrete and compelling illustrations.

(6)    Reinvigorate AFP's advocacy and public policy efforts with the intention of making AFP the "go-to" source at both federal and state/provincial levels for information and counsel on the claims of ethical fundraising for public policy and regulatory requirements.

The think tank concluded with a presentation by Robert Shoemake, director of programs and membership for the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas-Minnesota.  Mr. Shoemake has assisted AFP in developing the AFP Ethics Assessment Inventory™, scheduled for roll-out in the second quarter of 2011. 

Early this spring, all AFP chapters will receive a final report of the 2010-2011 Think Tank.  There is a discussion guide and PowerPoints for replicating a mini-think tank at the chapter level. To learn more, contact the AFP Professional Advancement Division at


2008 Think Tank on Fundraising Research: Leadership, Governance and Giving

AFP is pleased to provide a discussion guide and four PowerPoint presentations (links below) on "Leadership, Governance and Giving" for use in developing chapter programs on these topics.  The materials result from the AFP Research Council Think Tank held in October 2008 in Orlando, Florida.  AFP is grateful to the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy and the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation for providing funding for the think tank. Click here to access the Guide and Powerpoints.


2005 Think Tank on Fundraising Research: Promoting Ethics as a Guiding Force

 “What can or should be our professional response to promoting ethics as a guiding principle in ethical fundraising?” To answer that question, the 2005 AFP Think Tank on Fundraising in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 7–8 involved a lively discussion of theoretical principles and practical issues affecting the work of philanthropic fundraising.

The AFP Think Tank on Fundraising was sponsored by the AFP Research Council and the AFP Ethics Committee. Co-sponsors included the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, United Way of America and the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. Additional support was provided through the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy by the AFP Florida, Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County Chapter; the AFP Ohio, Miami Valley Chapter; the AFP Pennsylvania, Greater Philadelphia Chapter; the Patricia F. Lewis Ethics Endowment; Leslie W. Brown, CFRE; and Tyrone Herring, CFRE.

More than 50 invited professionals from a wide range of organizations in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico took part in the two-day event that focused on the following goals:

  • Identifying core issues important to promoting ethics as a guiding principle in philanthropic fundraising
  • Defining short-term and intermediate indicators of success—by issue
  • Assessing the environment in which initiatives will occur
  • Proposing action agendas to start the promotion process

Ethics in Civil Society

Ethics is defined as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad or right and wrong or with moral duty and obligation, a group of moral principles or set of values and the principles of conduct governing an individual or a profession.” Also, ethics is “character or the ideals of character manifested by a race or people (from the Greek ethos).”

Thus, it is easy to see why ethics can be both a business and an art—philanthropy—with many gray areas and little in clear black and white. The panel session on “Confidence in the Philanthropic Sector: The Value of Building Trust” highlighted the perceptions and the realities of the sector, as well as the “power of the myth of the sector.” Nonprofits are “the dark matter that hold the universe together. They are difficult to quantify and not well understood,” one participant said.

The group discussed how the public’s trust in philanthropy failed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and has not yet recovered. In addition, some felt that the perception of philanthropy was changing, being seen more as a “big business.” “How does the initial passion get transferred to a more sophisticated board, staff and volunteers?” participants asked.

An organization’s response to the concept of building donor trust can focus on three main areas, the participants agreed:

  • Educate board members. First steps should include orienting all members to the organization’s mission and involving them in programs.
  • Communicate with donors. Have a communications plan and implement it! Clarify and reaffirm your mission and case with donors through all communication avenues. Also, involve the executive director or CEO in all aspects of communications.
  • Fulfill donor intent.

Discussions on accountability and regulation revealed the opinion that charitable donors have lost patience with nonprofits’ misallocation of their funds and their ability to be honest brokers between donor and beneficiary. And Sarbanes-Oxley? “It focuses attention on ‘eating your spinach’ issues—what you need to do to be healthy.”

“It is a fascinating time for nonprofit organizations,” one participant noted. “We must answer the question of how nonprofits are judged. One of the purposes of transparency is to avoid regulation. We must take charge of the conversation or someone will do it for us.”

Another participant offered this simple test: “Take any sentence your organization wants to speak and imagine it as a newspaper headline.”

Analyzing Priority Factors

In addition to panel discussions and presentations from speakers from universities, nonprofit organizations and the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, roundtables and group sessions offered ample opportunity to explore such issues as self regulation and legislation of fundraising, asset retention, teaching about ethics and effectiveness of the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice.

In one session, each of five working groups took one of the priority factors influencing how the profession could promote ethics—integrity, transparency, public trust, enforcement and organizational bottom line—and developed answers to four questions:

  1. What is the current state of affairs—how does the profession look now?
  2. How should we look in one year?
  3. How should we look in three to five years?
  4. What are initial steps that should be considered to create the one-year change?

Participants felt that all five priority factors needed improvement:

Integrity is regarded as fundamental now, one group noted, but organizations are not consciously working on the issue, possibly because it may be regarded as optional or because not everyone understands integrity in the fundraising profession. To change that, participants discussed possible solutions, including having recertification involve questions on ethics and having an ethics education coordinator in each chapter as a chapter board position.

Another group felt that transparency currently could best be described as “unclear,” “undefined,” “inconsistent” and “mistrusted.” In order for transparency to have a consistent message with recognized value, participants suggested having a yearlong educational campaign, in segments, at the chapter level, as one possible solution.

Public trust is confused and somewhat negative today, participants noted, but there are opportunities. In order to achieve a marked decrease in fraud and more community focus on mission, suggestions included building legitimacy and credibility through open dialogue; educating, engaging and empowering board members to participate; and media outreach, to name a few.

Enforcement also could be much better, another group said. New AFP members, prospects and the general public are unaware of the Code or the enforcement process, expectations or the consequences when violations occur, participants pointed out. Looking ahead, continued self-regulation is necessary, the group noted, with more aggressive promotion of the Code, its application and the potential consequences of noncompliance.

The organizational bottom line is a “big pressure point,” one group agreed, with the focus on dollar outcomes rather than on the mission—who we are and why our organization exists. Ethical concerns and the dollar bottom line are linked, participants said. How do we make ownership/existence of organizational values statements a reality? Participants suggested strategic alliances, targeting a number of national organizations as examples of “best practice” values and using them to “infect” others, as well as educating specific publics about values statements, among others.


2002 Think Tank on Fundraising Research

Building on the success of the 1995 and 1999 Think Tanks, which brought together scholars and practitioners to explore the links between theory and practice in the work of philanthropic fundraising, the 2002 Think Tank examined ways in which philanthropy and cultures of giving are working to sustain civil society in North America and internationally.

As an extension of previous Think Tanks, the 2002 Think Tank focused on ways to encourage dialogue between scholars and practitioners -- and thereby strengthen the common work of philanthropy.

Background and overview

What are the characteristics of a healthy and vital civil society? What are the social and personal forces, institutions, and practices that help to build and sustain a community? What role do the practices of philanthropy and the various cultures of community participation play in a civil society?

Recently, a group of scholars and reflective citizens (including Robert Putnam, Stephen Carter, Robert Bellah, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Brian O'Connell, Robert Payton, et. al.) suggested that our civil society is in some disrepair: we don't pay attention, the etiquette of our democracy is not widely practiced, and so on. In response to this situation, we are urged to talk with each other, to nurture mediating organizations, to teach our children well, and to hold ourselves accountable for what we believe, think, and do.

At the same time, many who study and work in the philanthropic sector believe that philanthropy and the cultures of giving and receiving found in contemporary society are important tools that help build and sustain our communities as the center of a civil society.

Themes addressed

Philanthropy and the cultures of giving in which it is practiced are essential to a healthy society. Philanthropy is a value in all cultures, but it is in the United States that philanthropy has been organized and structured in ways not seen elsewhere.

As philanthropy has become increasingly structured during the last several decades, it has also experienced growing participation from the for-profit sector - especially during the 1990s. How does the management of philanthropy affect cultures of giving?

Is philanthropy becoming a business or is the caring heart still at the core of giving? As the 21st Century begins, philanthropy approaches a crossroads.

  • Venture philanthropy applies business approaches to the business of giving.
  • Individuals at all levels are becoming more directive in their giving and more concerned with the uses of their gifts.
  • Wealthy, highly driven individuals with little or no tradition of service are melding corporate, foundation, and individual philanthropy in new and unexpected ways.
  • Old and very different cultures in this and other countries are developing philanthropy organizationally and personally, recognizing both traditional values and 21st century needs.

What impact will these trends have on philanthropy as we have practiced it? How can we assure that philanthropy will focus on values that foster the voluntary spirit, community cohesiveness and civil society? The 2002 Think Tank will explore these issues.

Research questions (from the Research Council's ongoing research agenda)

  • How can research be further developed on the impact of giving on local communities, especially with respect to our understanding of cultural contexts and diversity?
  • What defines philanthropy in the various religious and secular traditions around the world?
  • In addition to the current emphases on motivation, should other "mobilizing factors" be examined?
  • What does or should the professional fundraising community look like in its make-up, its standards, and its practices?


1999 Think Tank on Fundraising Research
Public Policy/Public Trust: Issues for Fundraising Research

The June, 1999 Think Tank on Fundraising Research, held in Alexandria, Virginia, encouraged a constructive dialogue on theory and practice in philanthropic fundraising. The program included eight commissioned papers and responses on the above-mentioned theme.

Thirty-five scholars and practitioners held a lively discussion that explored various topics related to how our work as fundraisers is situated in a public context that significantly impacts what we do.


  • Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action
  • Association of Lutheran Development Executives
  • Indiana University Center on Philanthropy
  • Council on Foundations Council for the Advancement and Support of Education
  • National Catholic Development Conference
  • Nonprofit Management Program of George Mason University
  • National Alliance for Nonprofit Management
  • National Committee on Planned Giving
  • Society for Nonprofit Organizations

Program objectives

  • To discuss major research themes for the philanthropic sector.
  • To increase interaction among academic researchers and practitioners.
  • To propose a set of normative recommendations and findings, grounded in the Think Tank discussions and papers, that may help promote a stronger philanthropic community and extend professional, academic, and public conversations about philanthropic issues.
  • To design a dissemination plan for the Think Tank findings that communicates the issues addressed in the Think Tank proceedings to diverse audiences through a variety of strategies.

1999 Think Tank Proceedings

Proceedings of the 1999 Think Tank were disseminated in New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, Spring and Summer, 2000; Jossey-Bass Publishers. New Directions is a quarterly monograph-length publication co-sponsored by AFP and the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. Click here for more information on New Directions.


Definitional issues: public trust and public policy:

  • What institutional forms does trust take? How do we grow trust? How is it related to generosity and forgiveness?
  • What is the public trust? Should the public trust drive us? How large is the public?
  • Should we regulate ourselves or allow ourselves to be regulated?
  • What are the sources of trust and trustworthiness? Can they be regulated?

Audience issues:

  • How do beliefs change the world, and what is our responsibility to help shape those beliefs?
  • Philanthropy education -- who will take the lead? Is there a role for churches in helping people to understand philanthropy more fully?
  • Who are the stakeholders in the philanthropic community? How do we encourage their involvement in our work?
  • The nexus between fundraisers and social perceptions of money.

Research/future study issues:

  • Role of government in funding nonprofits and how it relates to an erosion of trust; Fukuyama's hypothesis is that trust is eroded by governmental involvement.
  • What is the connection between social and financial capital?
  • Can the nonprofit sector ally itself with socially responsible corporations and individuals (and the emerging trends they represent) to build trust?
  • Can we survive the loss of exempt privileges as we have known them? Is tax exemption a divine right? If we get off the dole, can we do more good? What would be the impact of a more rationalized version of PILOT payments -- one that is open and accountable?
  • How the work of fundraising is like other professions, apprenticeships, experiences. Is fundraising a vocation?
  • Do we need a better taxonomy of the nonprofit sector -- a way of understanding sector diversity?


1995 AFP Think Tank on Fundraising Research

The first AFP Think Tank on Fundraising Research took place at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy in June 1995. Fundraising scholars and practitioners presented papers and led discussion on 35 topics, including:

  • Demographics of giving.
  • Financial and management issues.
  • Factors affecting motivation of donors.
  • Impact of government and public policy.
  • Equity and ethical issues.
  • International fundraising.
  • The fundraising profession.


  • Association of Fundraising Professionals (then NSFRE)
  • Indiana University Center on Philanthropy
  • Council for Advancement and Support of Education
  • Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action

1995 Think Tank Proceedings

Proceedings of the 1995 Think Tank were published in 1997 in Critical Issues in Fund Raising, Ed. Dwight F. Burlingame (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), as part of the AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series.

Papers included in the book are:

And We Will Teach Them How. Professional formation and public accountability. Paul Pribbenow, Ph.D., CFRE.

The Management of Nonprofit Organization Resources. Dennis R. Young, Ph.D.

The Fundraising Profession. Margaret A. Duronio, Ph.D.

The Ethical Dimensions of Fundraising. Michael O'Neill, Ed.D.

Respecting the Individual, Valuing Diversity. Equity in Philanthropy and Fundraising. Marilyn Fischer, Ph.D.

The Demographics of Giving Patterns. Julian Wolpert, Ph.D.

Philanthropic Giving and Fundraising in Europe. Patterns and current developments. Helmut Anheier and Steven Toepler.

Inclination, Obligation, and Association. What we know and what we need to learn about donor motivation. Paul G. Schervish, Ph.D.

From Motivation to Mutual Understanding. Shifting the domain of donor research. Kathleen S. Kelly, Ph.D., CFRE, APR, Fellow PRSA.

Costs and Performance Measurements. James M. Greenfield, ACFRE, FAHP.

A Horse of a Different Color. Management and financial implications of nonformula fundraising. Marjorie A. Winkler, ACFRE U.S.

Models and International Dimensions of Philanthropic Fundraising. Lilya Wagner, Ed.D., CFRE.

Government Regulation and Charitable Fundraising. Worthwhile protection or unreasonable burden? Bruce R. Hopkins, JD, LLM.

On the Regulation of Fundraising. Richard Steinberg, Ph.D.

Bowling Together. Fundraising practices and civic engagement. Jon Pratt.

Critical Issues for Research. Dwight S. Burlingame, Ph.D., CFRE.


4300 Wilson Blvd, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22203 • 703-684-0410 | 800-666-3863 | Fax: 703-684-0540
©2009 AFP. This site content may not be copied, reproduced or redistributed without prior written
permission from the Association of Fundraising Professionals or its affiliates.
Privacy Policy | Feedback | Contact Us | Advertise with Us