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Ethics panel Co-hosted by AFP’s Ethics Resources Committee and the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Governance

By Valerie Campbell

On February 25, the Ethics Resources Committee of AFP's Greater Toronto Chapter hosted a first-ever ethics panel breakfast at The Albany Club with our partners from the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Governance. Development professionals and private sector executives gathered together to participate with leaders in corporate giving and volunteering to discuss ethics in the sector.

Panelists included: 

  • Shari Austin, vice president, corporate citizenship and executive director, RBC Foundation who spoke about relationships with corporate partners.
  • George Fierheller, a well-known volunteer leader, discussed the core values needed to succeed in the profession. 
  • Jo-Anne Ryan, vice president, philanthropy, TD Wealth, reviewed the special considerations around working with financial advisors and individuals of wealth.
  • Darrell Gregersen, president & CEO, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) served as the moderator.

In light of the fact that ethics is a prevalent topic in both the charitable and corporate and governmental worlds, the session is the first of a series that the Ethics Resources Committee is organizing as a strategy to provide a forum for leaders in the charitable sector to discuss current ethical issues in an open, supportive format that directly involves the donors and volunteers with whom development professionals work. Some of the key highlights from the discussion are shared below. 

Topic: Relationships with corporate partners (Shari Austin)

Corporations are often seen as having “deep pockets,” and that a request for funds will be automatically delivered upon.  Shari spoke to the need for cultivating, nurturing, and stewarding good relationships that are based on a long-term outlook and mutual respect.  While many of the points below might seem foreign, they happen more than we might expect and warrant discussion for the benefit of benefactor and beneficiary alike.

1. Do not stretch your case to fit the guidelines. Honestly and factually represent your organization’s needs for what they truly are rather than trying to “fit” them into a set of giving guidelines. If it’s a stretch to make the funding request fit, then it’s probably not a legitimate proposal to begin with. When it reaches the other side, it will likely not represent the organization well. 

2. Use granted funds for the purposes intended. If a contribution has been granted, be sure to use the funds for the intention for which they were raised. If there is any possibility that the organization would benefit from using them for purposes other than what they were granted for, a formal request ought to be made of the corporate partner. It is important to understand where the donor is coming from: often, the corporate partner will want to measure the outcomes of these types of donations to ensure they too are achieving what they set out to do in terms of community impact.

3. Be transparent about your financial situation – no matter how bad. If your organization is struggling financially (and many are, especially those that receive government funding where there are cutbacks and freezes), be up front about it. Chances are, the situation is known already anyway, but more importantly, it’s a sin of omission. If you are getting into a relationship with an organization, they deserve to know your internal situation. Often times, funders have great strategic insights that can help with financial pressures.

Topic: Personal integrity  (George Fierheller)

Regardless of where you work, there are bound to be ethical issues. Every person has a different background, and each of us has a unique perspective. All of us have different levels of comfort in dealing with ethical dilemmas too, and often times addressing them can feel like “confrontation” and make people feel “ashamed.” Personal integrity must be encouraged to give people the confidence to speak up, especially to their superiors, if need be. 

1. Your integrity is everything. There is no “perfect job” that is worth sacrificing your personal integrity for. Always remember this if you feel threatened in any way, and stand your ground to discern what is really going on, who to talk to, actions to take, and how to find solutions. If a solution cannot be found within the frame of reason, the job is not worth it. 

2. “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!” Your gut tells you everything you need to know. Follow it. Even if you are unable to articulate with clarity what is not “right,” let people know you do not “feel right” about an ethical situation. Others will help you to figure it out. We trust each other’s guts, and if someone is brave enough to say something, others will join in. 

3. Your organization trusts you to do the right thing. Fundraisers have a very specialized set of skills. More than other professions, those skills need to be utilized with care and concern because of the element of trust involved in your interactions with donors and volunteers. Follow your gut and your heart, and if it is difficult to make a choice or speak up, think of your organization and what its stakeholders would want you to do. 

Topic: Working with financial advisors and individuals of wealth (Jo-Anne Ryan)

Increasingly, donors are seeking the advice and support of experts to help them to identify and work with charities that share their values and sense of personal mission. This includes not only determining giving in the present, but also in estate planning.

1. The donor landscape is changing. Donors, especially older ones, are leaving less money to their children and more to charity. This is a significant change that speaks to the broadening of altruism beyond the family unit. 

2. Giving in the “now.” Donors are also giving in current terms to experience their own philanthropy and be connected to cause and beneficiaries. They want the satisfaction of witnessing and experiencing their giving while they are alive! 

3. Short and long-term giving plans: Advisors are helping donors to develop short and immediate term donation plans that help to address tax needs, and to facilitate giving in the now. However, simultaneously, they are also creating long-term plans that enable the donor to create a legacy of support that expresses their deepest values long after they have gone. 

4. Fundraisers need to educate themselves now! Fundraisers need to know what financial advisors know now in order to provide meaningful support to donors, who are looking for serious advice when it comes to giving. Above all, be transparent about your organization’s needs, finances, future and plans, and engage your donors to interact with each other as a community of like-minded supporters connected by the same vision and commitment. Also, facilitate their ability to share the good news of your organization with their networks.

In the End

All three panellists agreed that fundraisers can be put into extremely difficult situations either by donors or volunteers, and that all the skill and education is sometimes not enough to deal with situations that betray personal integrity. In these cases, their best advice is to resign. (This is a topic we will discuss in more detail at a later date. 

Some of the recommendations coming from the panelists included:

  • Ensure there are approved gift acceptance policies (this includes policies on what to do if you must return a gift)
  • Ensure and support constant regulation of gift solicitation and acceptance
  • Support processes that eliminate ethical issues (i.e. an approved list of individuals or corporations for which the organization will not accept a gift)
  • Ensure regular meetings on ethics (host an ethics luncheon at your office!) to keep the conversation open and allow junior fundraisers to bring forward questions

Submitted by Valerie Campbell, chair, Ethics Resources Committee, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Toronto Area Chapter. The Ethics Resources Committee works to enliven the discussion about ethics in fundraising and the charitable sector. The committee's role is to inform, promote, educate, and be a think tank on ethics.

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