Betsy was directed by her manager to not reveal some facts about her organization’s finances which, if brought to the attention of the board or accountants, would show that the organization did not raise the amount of money it claimed to have raised in the previous year. Should she hide the truth?

The direct mail vendor Jonathan is working with offers a discount to Jonathan if he will allow the vendor to include his donors’ records as part of their broader mailing list, to be sold to other organizations. This is in contradiction to his organization’s stated policies. Should he sell his list? The vendor promises to not reveal the agreement to anyone.

Catherine has been told by her boss that her annual bonus is conditioned upon her refusal to reveal to a board investigatory committee compromising information about her boss and another employee. It was implied to her that if she fails to “get along by going along” her future at the organization will be in jeopardy. Should she “keep her mouth shut” and protect her job?

In the course of our careers, it is likely that we will be asked to do something which we consider unethical. The request may come from our managers, trustees or donors. It may come from a family member, friend or colleague. There are many ways we can find ourselves in compromising situations. The way we handle them will define who we are and whether we are, and are recognized as, ethical professionals.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals has created The Code of Ethical Principals and Standards to which each one of us has agreed to abide as members of AFP. The authors of the Code have tried to lay out the range of situations which might lead to an ethical conundrum and provide us with guideposts directing us on how to respond ethically and professionally.

Acting in an ethical manner is not easy. Often, we find our ethical choice to be in direct conflict with the facile and expedient. Betsy may not have an obligation to reveal her organization’s finances to her board. Maybe it should be the CEO’s or CFO’s obligation. But does that mean it is right to be complicit?

Receiving a discount from a vendor may, in the short term, be financially beneficial to Jonathan’s department. And, anyway, who would know that the names got on the vendor’s list from his list? Does the likelihood of not getting caught outweigh the breach?

And, Catherine. Wouldn’t it be better for her to not get involved in a matter in which she was not a direct party?

Failing to acquiesce may have personal repercussions. We may lose our jobs. We may lose our reputations. We may lose our careers. Often times it seems as if our lives are in the balance.

It takes strength of character to do the right thing in these situations. Recognizing that doing the right thing is right no matter the consequences is hard to see. While the AFP Code of Professional Conduct and Standards of Ethical Behavior and governing laws and regulations are guideposts, it is not easy applying them to the immediate and specific circumstances of our lives.

First, we recommend that you review the guidelines regularly. Think about circumstances in your career when you were confronted with choices and see if any of the guidelines would have helped you come to a decision.

In addition, we recommend you speak with people you believe practice ethical behavior. That may be a colleague, a spiritual leader, friend, spouse or mentor. While we don’t advocate you confess to a crime to a non-privileged third party, talking out an ethical dilemma often reveals the correct path to take.

Finally, remember that as members of AFP we have taken a pledge to act in the highest professional manner. Sometimes to do so will be painful. However, it is incumbent upon us to look past the immediate pain and recognize that we will be better for making the hard choice.

Know that you are not alone. There are good people – your family, colleagues and friends – who are willing to help you.

Advertisements