Ethics in Fundraising

In one of my classes this semester, we’re currently learning about the ins and outs of fundraising and the different situations that can lead to ethical dilemmas. For organizations that are mission-driven, and especially for social workers, it is very important to consider the implications of taking money from certain funding sources. If an organization would like to create a new gym for a community center, but the corporation that would like to fund it is also changing the neighborhood with employees moving in, it may be good to find out from the community about how they would feel about seeing that corporation’s logo on the gym floor before accepting the money. Our conversation during the presentation touched on this consideration among other things regarding ethical decisions in fundraising.

A few thoughts that stuck out following the discussion were the fact that fundraising is all about relationships, that we must learn to assume good intent, and tune into your gut. If it makes you sick to take money from certain funding sources because they do not align with your organization’s mission, that may be a strong indication that taking that money be a bad idea, or more work needs to be done before assuming those resources. It’s particularly challenging knowing that your organization needs funds to keep doing the work that they do, and the idea of not accepting money on ethical grounds seems detrimental to continuing that meaningful work.

As we were discussing one particular case, I was reminded of a story from a classmate. This classmate described how in a rural community, an organization fighting hunger in the area accepted financial support from the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the moral repugnancy of such an organization, partnering with the KKK helped the organization meet their objective, especially considering the lack of resources in the community. Perhaps I’m not covering this story accurately from the actual circumstance, but it has always stuck out to me as a compelling case of means and ends. We had discussed Alinsky’s piece in class, and it applies to this conversation on ethics, too. When you’re doing the work, things may appear to get morally messy, but to what end?

It is good, though, to be sensitive to your conscience, especially in the work that we set out to do. Some people would admit that they’ve become thick-skinned, hardened by battle and the world. As social workers, there’s probably a sense of having to have a hard outer shell when we confront traumatic situations regularly. But even if we have a hard shell outside, I would caution against having a hard heart on the inside, too. Perhaps that’s what people would recognize as burn out, where we’ve become numb to the pain and suffering around us, and we can no longer truly respond with compassion.

It’s a balance between getting the job done, being clear-minded and resolute, but also taking time to converse and reflect, to check in to where our heart is at and if we’ve gotten too callous in the line of duty. That’s another reason why having principles is important, because we can have something to come back to, to see if we are truly hitting the mark.

Fundraising, ultimately, is a vital part of a non-profit organization and meeting the needs that we set out to address. Without funds coming in, from donors of all kinds, the engine that keeps the organization running will clunk and expire. It’s like trying to run a car with no fuel. You’ve got all the parts, but you’re not going anywhere. Fortunately, not everyone who works for a non-profit has to necessarily be involved in fundraising. Even so, it’s important to understand the value of it to your organization, and perhaps for many people, that understanding will help it seem less sordid, and actually really good.


One thought on “Ethics in Fundraising

  1. Gabby,

    I completely agree – fundraising, especially in social work and nonprofit settings- is like walking a tightrope. It’s easy to say one should ALWAYS side with what is “morally” right – but sometimes that can be subjective. And, most likely, if nonprofits refused to accept any “dirty” money, they’d go out of business. Nonprofit fundraising is full of hard decisions, but if one follows the ethical guidelines laid out in class, it seems a little bit easier.


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