Test Your Fund Raising Ethics
Forget the formal guidelines and codes: Mark Drozdowski offers a real-time method for judging the quality of your (and your employees') moral compass.
Like most other professionals, college fund raisers -- and those of us who teach them -- adhere to a strict code of ethics. Two of our main associations, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, publish standards to guide our decisions and behavior. Yet these codes are generalizations, telling us only in the broadest terms what is and isn’t acceptable practice.
Ethical decisions, of course, are made when facing specific situations. With that in mind, I’ve devised the following quiz that fund raisers can use to judge morals, or lack thereof, among staff members, job applicants and potential volunteers -- after first testing themselves.
1. You’re about to start your day of prospect meetings in New York City and decide that your best mode of transportation is a taxi. Does this momentarily give you pause because…
A. You realize you can save your institution about $50 by taking the subway or bus;
B. You’re afraid of running your travel expenses over budget; or
C. You can’t stomach pulling two Gs rounding Fifth Avenue?
2. While conducting research on a prospective donor, you learn that he was recently divorced. Knowing that divorce proceedings are often available as public records, do you…
A. Dive in hoping to find any relevant nuggets of asset information or financial obligations;
B. Resist the temptation and avoid treading on his privacy; or
C. Laugh yourself silly for even considering option B?
3. You want to audit your development operation, and one of your trustees suggests engaging a consulting firm with which he’s affiliated. Do you…
A. Politely decline, citing conflict of interest implications;
B. Tell other trustees, hoping they’ll intervene; or
C. Try to keep a straight face while thanking him for his offer of pro bono services?
4. A donor tells you he wants to make a seven-figure gift to establish an academic program that you know the provost doesn’t want. Do you…
A. Decline the money;
B. Redirect the donor’s attention to more pressing campus priorities; or
C. Tell the provost it’s easier to find a provost than a wealthy donor?
5. An elderly woman offers to make a gift that you know is beyond her financial means. Should you…
A. Divulge that you know she can’t afford to make such a commitment;
B. Suggest you instead make an arrangement in her best interests; or
C. Hope her children don’t find out before the ink dries?
6. You recently named your library for a donor who has since been indicted for insider trading and money laundering and is probably heading to jail. Should you…
A. Return the money and remove the name from the library;
B. Keep the money, leave the name, and hope for no bad publicity; or
C. Suggest the donor instead name the business school?
7. The timetable on your challenge grant has expired and you still haven’t matched every dollar. Should you…
A. Ask for an extension;
B. Call it a day and return the unmatched portion; or
C. Announce victory, thanking the Human Fund for putting you over the top?
8. You’re on the phone with a freelance grant writer who wants to be paid a percentage of the grant funds his proposals attract. Do you…
A. Decline, pointing out that this arrangement flies in the face of conventional standards;
B. Accept, figuring that 90 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing; or
C. Tell him you think the program officer will be confused when he sees “sleaze” in the line-item budget?
9. A faculty member wants to use grant funds for the history department’s holiday party. Do you…
A. Appeal to his better judgment;
B. Tell him it’s his call and he’ll have to fudge the numbers afterwards; or
C. Tell him you prefer mushrooms and sausage, but no anchovies?
10. A potential donor wants you to provide a tax receipt valuing a gift-in-kind much higher than its actual worth. Should you…
A. Ask him to provide an independent appraisal and award gift credit for that amount;
B. Decline the offer and avoid any potentially prickly situation; or
C. Tell your brother that his ’88 Vee-Dub isn’t worth a damn anyway?
11. A local journalist calls to ask, off the record, who that “anonymous” million-dollar donor really is. Should you…
A. Protect the donor’s identity at all costs;
B. Tell her “off the record” who it is and swear her to secrecy; or
C. Whisper it’s Paris Hilton and watch the fun ensue?
12. You’re about to interview a candidate and notice that his résumé lists an M.B.A. from the “Princeton School of Business.” Do you…
A. Confront the candidate during the interview and point out that Princeton has no such school;
B. Ask about the courses he took while studying for his MBA; or
C. Reveal during the conversation that you attended Princeton’s law school?
13. You’ve reached the end of a grant-funded program and there’s money left over. Do you…
A. Return the balance to the foundation, along with the final report;
B. Ask the foundation if you can use the money to begin the project’s next phase; or
C. Bring your biggest stein to the history department’s holiday party?
14. In a fit of self-indulgence, you raid the hotel minibar while on the road visiting donors. Do you…
A. Pay the tab yourself;
B. Ask for a non-itemized hotel bill; or
C. Focus the accountant’s attention on the “adult movies” charges?
15. Your golf foursome includes the board chair, who fudges handicaps to ensure you’ll win the annual charity tournament. Do you…
A. Lecture him about sportsmanship;
B. Squeal to the event organizer; or
C. Proudly accept your third “Sandbaggers of the Year” award?
Bonus. Your newest board member takes this quiz and circles C for almost every answer. Do you…
A. Share the results and your concerns with the president;
B. Organize an intervention involving other board members; or
C. Thank him for his generous campaign gift and remind him of the vastness of gray areas?
Mark J. Drozdowski is executive in residence at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, Mass., where he teaches in the Higher Education Administration and Nonprofit Management & Philanthropy graduate programs.
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