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Is There a Lake Wobegon Effect in Fundraising?

Everyone knows fundraisers must be ethical. That’s how we build trust so that donors will be motivated to give. If you are like most fundraisers, you probably think your ethical behavior is pretty good, perhaps—like the children in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon—even above average. But how do you know? And how does your organization compare with its competitors?

Those are questions behind the development of AFP’s Ethics Assessment Inventory (EAI). It is a voluntary, online tool that AFP provides as a benefit of AFP membership. The EAI enables AFP members to confidentially assess their fundraising performance along six dimensions of ethical practice.

The EAI was developed by the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas–Minnesota, with input from nearly 2,000 AFP members. As the makers say, it is not a test you can flunk, but, rather, “a development tool designed to point out areas of strength and opportunities for growth in the ethical dimension of your work as a fundraising professional.” Hundreds of members have completed the inventory since its launch in 2011.

An Alignment of Values and Standards

The EAI was developed on the assumption that the best ethical decisions are made when there is alignment among the individual moral compass of fundraising professionals, the principles and standards of the profession as a whole, and the values of the organization where fundraising professionals work.

One purpose of the inventory is to have fundraisers asking important questions about ethics that affect them, their organizations, and the profession—before they actually have to confront an ethical dilemma.

As former AFP Ethics Chair Paul Pribbenow, Ph.D., CFRE, president of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, has said, “Often, when we get to an ethical dilemma—whether it concerns donor intent, so-called ‘tainted money’ or conflicts of interest—it is too late for the sorts of conversations we should be having all the time about the values we espouse as professionals and organizations, the ways those values might support or come into conflict with our behavior, and how we might work together to live up to our highest values and commitments.”

There Will Be No Math

Don’t worry about re-kindling bad memories from your high school exams. The assessment is a developmental tool, not a test that you can pass or fail. It is intended to aid in the lifelong process of improving your ethical performance as a fundraising practitioner.

Completing the assessment is actually quite simple. Once you complete the 14 online items in the survey instrument, you will receive three bar graphs generated by the EAI. These will show your individual results, your individual results relative to those of your organization, and your organization’s results relative to the AFP norm. Each graph will display ratings for six ethical dimensions (Accountable, Adherent/Observant, Courageous, Integrity, Transparent, and Trustworthy) plus an overall rating that is a composite of the six.

A score of 100 represents the average score of fellow AFP members who have completed the assessment. A score above 100 would suggest an area of strength as compared with your AFP peers; a score below 100 would indicate an area where there is an opportunity for growth.

And who knows, the EAI results might show that you are a “Lake Wobegon” fundraiser, after all.

For more information about resources on ethics education, see the Ethics Hot Topic Page.

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