Many of you know Dave Coplan, Executive Director of Human Services Corporation; and an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. As a faculty member, Dave teaches introduction to fund raising. The course teaches students the basics of fund raising including the importance of ethics in fund raising.

Recently, Dave invited me to share with you the results of a class assignment. His students were asked to analyze one of a group of scenarios which posed ethical questions. They were to decide whether they believed the actions taken in their chosen scenario was ethical or not and to justify their conclusions by relying on their course materials. In particular, the students referred to Kim Klein’s book, Fundraising For Social Change (Chardon Press Series, Josey-Bass, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007). I have selected one representative discussion for your enjoyment. I think you will find the scenario and answer provocative.

Scenario: The Chicano Pride Coalition of a large city organizes the annual Cinco de Mayo parade. They seek corporate sponsors and give them a lot of publicity. Last year a beer company that has a reputation for racial discrimination in the workplace offered to be the sole sponsor of the parade in exchange for very large advertising banners and other promotion. The Coalition agreed and the beer company paid for the promotion as well as the parade. The Chicano Pride Coalition got flack from people who felt it was inappropriate to promote a beer company to this extent, especially one with its reputation. On the other hand, most people enjoyed the parade and the company’s underwriting saved the organization a lot of time finding sponsors. It was easy to work with the company and they were very generous. This year, the company wants to sponsor the parade again. What should the group do and why? What are the ethical issues?

The students’ response:

“We would not have the beer company sponsor the parade again because we do not believe that it is worth risking the Coalition’s reputation just to save time finding sponsors.

“As Kim Klein says on page 404: ‘what is the price of your own integrity?’ Taking the sponsorship again goes against the organization’s mission and does not make the Coalition look good to the public, which could have a negative impact on future donations.

“We do not believe that this situation withholds the ‘vomit test.’ Klein states on page 386 [of Fundraising for Social Change] that if someone in the organization feels that ‘taking money from such-and-such makes me want to vomit’ than the organization should not take the money. It feels wrong to accept the sponsorship from the beer company because their reputation for racial discrimination does not coincide with the Coalition’s mission.

“The ethical issues involved in this case include three tenants of the AFP Code of Ethical Principals and Standards:

“1. According to the AFP code, member organizations should: ‘foster cultural diversity and pluralistic values and treat all people with dignity and respect.’ The Chicano Pride Coalition is a cultural organization and should not accept money from a company that is known for their racial discrimination practices.

“2. The AFP code on solicitation states that: ‘members shall take care to ensure that all solicitation and communication materials are accurate and correctly reflect their organization’s mission and use of solicited funds.’ By advertising and promoting the beer company, which is known to be discriminatory, they are not reflecting their organization’s mission appropriately.

“3. The AFP code states that members should: ‘act according to the highest goals and visions of their organization, professions, clients, and consciences.’ By working with the beer company, the Chicano Pride Coalition is betraying their mission of diversity and acceptance.”

I commend Dave and his class for considering the ethical side of the work we do. Too often we or our leadership choose to look beyond the ethical pitfalls in certain decisions and only see the financial reward. However, once you begin to breach the ethical guidelines, it is a slippery slope leading to greater and greater unethical behavior.