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Ethics Isn’t About Judgment—it’s About Assessment, Reflection and Personal Improvement

ethics right wrongPaul Pribbenow knows what you think about ethics. And what you think about webinars on ethics. And he wants to change your mind.

“I’m not going to walk through the code of ethics and tell you what the standards are, most of which you know already,” says Pribbenow, president of Augsburg College and member of the AFP Ethics committee, who is presenting a webinar about ethics on Aug. 23.

“The Code of Ethics sometimes seems like this black-and-white document sent from on high, but the reality is, it’s a living document that represents just the floor for ethical behavior,” he continues. “The key is for us to slow down and think through the sort of lives we want to live, our moral values, the ethical situation we face, and then to encourage discussion about our professional moral lives. In that way, we learn from each other and educate ourselves about decision making.”

Pribbenow stresses that there isn’t always a wrong or right, good or bad, when you discuss ethical situation. Ethical decision making, he says, can be “messy,” and when we don't recognize that, we sometimes jump to judgment. “For so long, AFP’s role in ethics has been to set standards and ensure those standards are being met,” he says. “We’ve done a good job at that, and it’s still important. But if we’re going to meet the needs of members who are living in an increasingly complex world, we have to take the next step—provide tools that focus on deliberation and the process of making better ethical decisions.”

Assessment is Key

A primary part of Pribbenow’s presentation will be AFP’s newest ethical resource, the Ethics Assessment Inventory.

The inventory is a 14-item online survey that provides fundraisers a snapshot of their ethical performance, their organization’s ethical performance and how those compare to other fundraisers and organizations in the field.

“What members need to realize is that the tool is NOT a way to judge if they are doing well or poorly, but rather to show where they fail on a continuum of behavior based on their peers,” says Pribbenow. “It’s meant to inspire discussion—why are we not doing these sorts of activities when other organizations are? What are we doing well? What can we do better, and what kind of donor education and stewardship opportunities are we missing out on by not doing these sorts of activities?”

Pribbenow stresses that the tool is driven by the responses of fundraisers, and that participants are comparing themselves and their behavior to others. “Again, this isn’t based on some all-knowing document, but on the thousands of responses we’ve received from fundraisers around the world. So it’s a tool for individual and organizational improvement, yes, but also as a way to see how our profession is evolving and improving. What we do emphasize? How does that compare to what donors need and want?”

And for Pribbenow, all of those questions lead back to the most important aspect of ethics: community discussion and deliberation.

“We can’t wait until there’s a crisis to make good ethical decisions,” he says. “We have to be in a reflective mood and take the time beforehand to think through these sorts of issues. I want this presentation to be an opportunity to spark those kinds of discussions—to talk through ethics on a macro-level. Ethics is one of those areas that you learn more from talking with each other, not through some book or manual.”

On Aug. 23 at 1:00 p.m., Pribbenow will present a webinar about ethics, ethical decision making and the Ethics Assessment Inventory. For more information, including how to register, click here.

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