Searching for an ethical approach to fundraising

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Michael Distelhorst is a professor of law and graduate business at Capital University and the co-director of the Center for the Advancement and Study of Ethics. Speaking at NCPG's eighth national conference Planning Today for Tomorrow, he identified the following three major themes for an ethics-based approach to charitable fundraising and planned giving:

Respect for donor values and donor rights

Donor values and related goals must be carefully determined. It is critical to identify and carry out the goals of the donors, whether they are benevolent, financial, or otherwise. It is similarly critical to understand the values and goals of the donor in the context of such donor rights as confidentiality, the right to be fully informed, the right to have any legitimate interest or value advanced, the right to have projects and values matched, and the right to a fully dialogic process of discovery.

Sensitivity to the inherent conflicts of interest

Planned giving professionals are frequently placed in positions of inherent conflict of interest as a result of the need, in some ways, to represent both parties to a transaction. They represent the donee by furthering its financial interests while being paid by it. They represent the donor in the sense of helping the donor accomplish important ethical or financial goals. It is especially important for such professionals to understand the importance of full and complete disclosure in cases of conflict. Such disclosure is only possible when accuracy, truth, integrity, and good faith are present from all parties during all phases of a transaction, including solicitation, structuring the gift, use of the gift, reporting about the gift.

Awareness of pitfalls in advising about other professionals

There are numerous questions of conflict, competency, and self-interest that must be considered in advising someone to hire other professionals such as accountants, financial planners, and lawyers. One must consider the problems of disagreeing or concurring with the advice of other professionals. These other professionals should be people who comply with their own profession's code of ethics and it is important to understand what these codes say.

According to Distelhorst, professionals will better be able to fill this bill if they do what they can to ensure their institutions have a culture that values and supports an ethical approach to fundraising. Distelhorst warned that a system that is not directed toward ethics-based activity can nearly always undermine the efforts of right-minded individuals.

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