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AFP's research agenda and policy

The research agenda and policy for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is developed and periodically revised by the Association's Research Council, and reflects an effort to set priorities for research about issues of concern to the fundraising profession and wider philanthropic communities.  The research agenda includes issues of strategic importance--questions and topics that the Research Council believes are most pressing for exploration and conversation. The agenda also includes a more comprehensive list of topics that reflect on-going issues that are important to the work of academics and practitioners committed to more vital philanthropic communities.

Policy on Research

The Association of Fundraising Professionals will encourage and support objective, scholarly research on philanthropy and fundraising of two general types:

1) basic research which builds a knowledge base for and contributes to a broader understanding of philanthropy and fundraising

2) applied research which develops and advances the practice and professionalism of fundraising

AFP will implement its research policy and pursue its research interests as follows:

  • Maintain and promote a research agenda that informs and advances the interests of the Association, its Foundation, and members.
  • Foster appropriate partnered research conducted through academic institutions, research centers, and other organizations.
  • Seek collaboration with other organizations nationally and internationally for joint research projects.
  • Formally recognize outstanding research on philanthropy and fundraising.
  • Seek and promote funding for priority research projects and topics on its agenda.
  • Disseminate research findings to members, other institutions, the media, and third party audiences, as appropriate.
  • Assist in research by making the AFP population and other resources available for study consistent with these provisions. Maintain a bibliography of current relevant research. Develop other strategies as appropriate.

Strategic Research Agenda

Issues of Public Trust:

  • What is the public trust? What are the sources of trust and trustworthiness? Can they be regulated? What institutional forms does trust take in a society? How do we grow public trust? How is trust related to generosity and forgiveness? What role does a government play in creating and/or eroding public trust? How can non-profit/non-governmental (NGO) organizations ally themselves with socially responsible corporations/individuals to build public trust?
  • Who will take the lead in educating publics about philanthropy? Are there roles for philanthropic organizations and religious communities in an aggressive advocacy program for philanthropy? What is the link between philanthropic fundraising and public perceptions of the role of money in personal and social lives? What are the roles of technology and fundraising practices in fostering trust in philanthropic communities?

Issues of Public Policy:

  • What is the relationship between organizational tax status and public accountability?
  • How do issues of organizational location, mission, services, and stakeholders relate to the threat of "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" (PILOT)?
  • Can the non-profit/NGO sector function effectively without tax-exempt privileges?
  • Is it time for non-profit/NGO law to evolve?
  • What are strategies for philanthropic organizations to pursue accountability?
  • How do we ensure that philanthropic communities have accurate and relevant data to define trust and policy issues?
  • Do we need a better taxonomy of the nonprofit/NGO sector?
  • What effect do changes in tax law have on giving?
  • What role does the accounting profession play in philanthropic communities?

On-going Research Agenda

Demographics of Giving and Community Determinants of Giving:

  • In what ways should research tracking patterns of giving be expanded?
  • 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? How and when can comparable international databases be developed?

Financial and Management Issues:

  • How can the effectiveness of fundraising be measured other than by just dollars; how should it be measured? How does fundraising relate to overall resource issues in charitable organizations? When do market-based revenues affect charitable giving?
  • How should the costs of fundraising be measured and what factors need to be taken into account when comparing these costs?
  • What are the predominant roles enacted by volunteers, and how have they changed over time?
  • What is the connection between social and financial capital?
  • What is the relationship between organizational mission and the integrity of day-to-day management and operations of the nonprofit/NGO sectors?
  • What happens when joint costs are reallocated in organizational budgets? What is the impact of dollars raised by professional solicitors? Do compensation patterns for fund-raisers have an impact on dollars raised?

Motivation of Donors:

  • In addition to the current emphases on motivation, should other "mobilizing factors" be examined?
  • How can studies on giving be improved to better understand the philanthropy of different segments of a population, including generational differences, and religious, ethnic and racial groups, and also to explore the connections between giving and volunteering?
  • In what ways do nonprofits/NGOs play a role in creating "safe havens" for donors? Do donors feel safe in relationships with philanthropic organizations?

Impact of Government and Public Policy:

  • What is the scope of the "problem" that fundraising regulation attempts to control?
  • How should fund raisers be defined and differentiated in the context of regulation?
  • What are effects of different legal frameworks on fundraising?
  • How can the social value of fundraising be measured and translated to policymakers?

Equity and Ethical Issues:

  • Has the level of participation in nonprofits/NGOs changed recently? What are the generational and cultural aspects of involvement and giving, and what are the moral issues we must address in these trends?
  • What perceptions do donors and others have of fundraising ethics? What responsibility does the fundraising profession/professional have to shape those perceptions?
  • What public roles and obligations does the fundraising profession have?
  • What is the impact of organizational mission and dynamics on the character of the fundraising profession?

The Fundraising Profession:

  • How has fundraising evolved in different cultures, and what are the historical implications for the practice?
  • In what ways do the social, political, cultural, and economic contexts in which fundraisers work influence how they practice and what they accomplish?
  • What does or should professional fundraising communities look like in their makeup, standards, and practices?
  • How do comparative studies of fundraising practice add to our understanding of what fundraising professionals do or might do better?
  • How is the work of fundraising like that of other professions, apprenticeships, and other forms of work?
  • What is the impact of the feminization of fundraising?
  • What is the impact of increasing numbers of diverse (ethnic, racial, economic and sexual orientation) populations on best practices in fundraising?

Adopted by the AFP Board and the AFP Foundation Board November 1991; updated in November 1995; updated in July 2000, updated December 2003.

Comments and inquiries should be directed to: Cathlene Williams, Ph.D., CAE, Vice President, Research, Association of Fundraising Professionals, 4300 Wilson Boulevard, Ste. 300, Arlington, VA 22203-4168; phone 703/519-8469; fax 703/684-0540, email cwilliams@afpnet.org.

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