One of our colleagues recently sent me the following scenario.

Some years ago Ms. Donor informed the School “you’re in my will.” This prompted her to be included in the Heritage Society.

Several months later Ms. Donor wrote to say the School was still in her will but directed that the School was not to send her any mail of any kind. Apparently, the School had failed to keep its pledge. At that time, however, Ms. Donor did indicate that the School representative was allowed to call her. A few years later Ms. Donor restated her directive regarding mail.

Now, you have been hired as the new planned giving officer for the School. While reviewing the list of Heritage Society members you come across Ms. Donor’s file. You would like to call and introduce yourself but are cognizant of the notes. Should you invite Ms. Donor to Heritage Society events, send newsletter and the like?

The AFP Ethics Guidelines and Standards is clear on this one. Guideline c. of Standard No. 1 states, in relevant part, “Members shall respect the wishes and needs of constituents….” The Standard reads that Members shall not engage in activities that harm the members’ organizations, clients or profession.

I would argue that while sending a donor mail does not rise to the level of “harm” as required in the Standard, it does fail to meet the donor’s wishes.

But is that the end of the story? Our colleague has a reasonable desire to provide her donor with on-going information about the good work of her School. We know that donors are more likely to drift away from our organization if we fail to keep in touch. While it is less likely that a person would remove a charity from his or her will than it is he or she will fail to pay off a pledge, should our colleague reduce that chance by keeping in close contact through mail?

Ms. Donor has been both clear and gracious regarding her desire to not receive mail from the School. She has repeatedly asked to be removed from the mailing list. I know some people who might have given the School one chance and then removed the School from their list of testamentary beneficiaries. By not doing that, Ms. Donor has demonstrated her loyalty.

One option for our colleague is to use the mail pieces as an opportunity to visit Ms. Donor. Maybe our colleague can ask Ms. Donor if she would allow for a visit on a regular basis? Our colleague may bring Ms. Donor a copy of the latest School newsletter or the Annual Report.

Another option is that Ms. Donor may be willing to accept some mail, such as invitations to Heritage Society events. Again, this is an opportunity for our colleague to build a closer relationship with her donor.

So, while it is vital to act within the parameters of our Ethical Standards, there may be ways for us to respect our donors wishes and still build close, lifelong relationships.

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