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Not Your Average Ethics Session

At first glance the Ethics sessions offered in the past at AFP’s International Conference on Fundraising haven’t always screamed, “Attend me!” But at the 2013 conference, that’s all going to change. This year, the Ethics sessions have been kicked up a notch, and A Crisis in Value – Our World is Built on Trust, featuring Barbara Levy, ACFRE, Ben Haddad, and AFP’s president and CEO Andrew Watt, FInstF, is no exception!

From across the sectors, ethics provides the foundation for trust and in all aspects of society. Levy notes that too often we only discuss the topic of ethics when there has been a scandalous lapse or breach of the public’s trust. In this conference session, on Monday, Apr. 8, from 1:15 – 2:30 p.m. at the San Diego Convention Center, a roundtable of San Diego leaders and nonprofit professionals will candidly respond to hypothetical life situations pertaining to ethical dilemmas. They will be using the Socratic dialogue method to conduct this session, which is far from the norm for a typical ethics session.

A Socratic dialogue is an open form of discussion wherein the participants discuss moral and philosophical problems, sometimes in a dramatic approach, but in this case, a narrative. The Socratic method gives the panelists a chance to debate hypothetical scenarios of ethical dilemmas, while stimulating critical thinking and providing opposing viewpoints.

As Levy points out, “This method is very out of the ordinary.” It’s a new and refreshing way to look at ethics, and proves to get more people involved in the discussion. “The AFP Chicago Chapter used the Socratic method and had great success!” says Levy.

Throughout the session, Haddad, the facilitator, will present the panelists with hypothetical scenarios, who will then provide a gut-instinct reaction to whether the scenario is ethical or unethical and how they would handle the situation. The panelists will come from all walks of the nonprofit world, and may include a professional from a university, hospital, or elsewhere in the San Diego community, which would appeal to a variety of nonprofit sectors (healthcare, education, arts, etc.). These panelists will provide an in-depth look at how they handle ethical situations in their profession.

The session is going to explore how to ask the right questions when looking at an ethical dilemma. The predicaments brought forth to the panelists will be based on real examples, not something completely out of the blue. “Panelists will be responding with their immediate reactions to the situations”, says Levy.

There will be no prepping, no reviewing of scenarios and no tailoring their responses to the expected audience. The reactions and answers will be raw and in real-time.  The panelists will get some minor background information on the basis of the session, but the point is to gage their instant reactions so the audience can get a genuine feel for how the situation should be handled.

Those who are familiar with ethics and base themselves in the advanced experience level should certainly attend this session. “All experience levels will benefit from this session, including senior level people, who need to attend this session to get a broader spectrum and direction on how they address their ethical situations. This will help them decipher what’s legal and moral, and how it all fits together”, says Levy.

For those who are knowledgeable about ethics, most know that in any given situation, 50 percent will always think one action is ethical, while the other 50 percent will always disagree.  Enter the “grey area of ethics.” Fundraisers need all the tools they can get to weed through the grey area, and this session, and the Socratic method, are among those tools.

When asked what ethics in philanthropy means to her, Levy explains, “We build a world of philanthropic opportunities based on trust, and we expect that our donors trust that the organizations they’re giving to will use their dollars wisely and ethically. I think today, as the session description states, we need to ask ourselves, ‘do we have a crisis in value?’ What are the values we face today, and how familiar are the philanthropists within those organizations with said values? It’s incumbent upon us as fundraisers to be absolutely transparent on what an organization represents. My organization has to have values that people can relate to.”

Among those values is a high commitment to ethics. As a longtime AFP member, Levy has signed the AFP Ethics Code 31 Times, and has served on the AFP Ethics Committee for seven years, serving as chair for the last two. As an advocate for ethics, Levy will bring an expert opinion to the panel in San Diego.

Join Levy, Haddad, Watt, and additional leaders from the nonprofit world, on Monday, Apr. 8, from 1:15 – 2:30 p.m. pacific, as they approach the topic of ethics in an unconventional but successful method! Bring your voice, your opinions and your questions because this is sure to be an interactive session between the audience and the panelists.  

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