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Member Benefit: AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards

June 25, 2006

(June 26, 2006) In the 2004 AFP Member Benefits Survey, AFP members overwhelming agreed that the Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice was the highest-rated member benefit.

First adopted in 1964, the AFP Code, as it is commonly referred to, provides members with a set of guidelines involving professional fundraising practices. In addition, AFP and the Ethics Committee work together to enforce the AFP Code, ensuring members are held to the same standards set forth in its guidelines.

When asked why they value the AFP Code so much, many members give the same reason: When placed in a questionable ethical situation by an organization, foundation or even a donor, members only have to refer to the AFP Code to get direction and can use it to educate others on ethical practices.

In times of increased accountability, AFP membership and adherence to the AFP Code reinforces each individual’s commitment to ethical fundraising and bolsters confidence in donor relationships.

“Our Code is the benchmark in the charitable sector,” says Walter Sczudlo, LLM, AFP executive vice president, programs and public policy, and general counsel. “It’s routine for other organizations in the sector to adopt it as their own policy.” The AFP Code, which includes detailed enforcement procedures, clearly expresses AFP’s vision of philanthropy promoted through responsible fundraising.

Members sign their adherence to the AFP Code every year when they renew their AFP membership. By signing the AFP Code, members make a pledge to avoid unethical fundraising or face reprimands and penalties.

Enforcement and Reprimands

The president’s office and AFP’s general counsel handle enforcement and questions pertaining to the AFP Code. There are three principal means of handling ethics dilemmas:

  • Consultations: “before problematic situations harden.” People are inventive, and new circumstances constantly arise, so no ethics code can answer every possible question. Callers with ethics questions are routed directly to AFP’s CEO or general counsel. Although the opinions offered become formal, recorded rulings, no proceeding ever arises from a telephone consultation —unless the caller initiates it.
  • Formal ethics queries: getting a ruling on record. The goal of queries is to provide assistance or effect improvement in fundraising practices without resorting to a formal complaint.
  • Ethics complaints: when behavior is clearly wrong. Complaints must be filed on the AFP complaint form and mailed to the CEO, who reviews them. If warranted, the complaint goes to the Ethics Committee chair, who checks the facts to determine whether there is sufficient information to support the charge (and to ensure that the committee is not being used as an arbitration panel in a contract dispute). The complainant is asked for additional information, if needed, but if the chair is satisfied that the complaint has merit, the matter is moved to the committee.

In the event AFP finds a member guilty of unethical behavior, penalties may result in a reprimand, a letter of censure, suspension or expulsion and withdrawal of AFP credentials.

The No. 1 Issue

The most common issue? Percentage-based compensation. There is no second-place issue, everything else, ranging from donor confidentiality to donor intent and fundraiser accounting methods—in short, every other matter the AFP Code covers—comes up for investigation with about equal frequency.

The complete Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice, a list of enforcement procedures and more information all are available on the AFP website at

For more information on the many member benefits AFP International offers, such as professional certification discounts, the Fundraising Resource Center, online discussion groups, AFP Directory of Consultants and Resource Partners and educational offerings, all at no charge or at a discounted cost, visit the AFP website or call 800/666-3863.

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