As a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, you subscribe to the AFP’s Code of Ethics. With its 15 aspirational values and 25 standards, it presents a comprehensive guideline for how one can act as a development professional. But does following these guidelines make you a better fund raiser than your brethren who are not members of AFP and therefore have not subscribed to its code of ethics?

It is hard to argue with the aspirational values. Through them we are admonished to “practice [our] profession with integrity, honest, truthfulness and adherence to the absolute obligation to safeguard the public trust”. We are to act according to the highest goals and visions of our organizations, professions, clients and consciences; put philanthropic mission above personal gain and inspire others through our own sense of dedication and high purpose. But are such altruistic motivations truly black and white?

Take, for example, the situation where a fund development officer is recruited for another job. Standard number 18 admonishes members to “adhere to the principle that all donor and prospect information created by, or on behalf of, an organization or a client is the property of that organization or client and shall not be transferred or utilized except on behalf of that organization or client.” Does that mean that an AFP member may not carry with her the relationships and donor knowledge she acquired at her work when she moves on to another position? Would a person who is not an AFP member be in an advantageous position for that new job because she would not be constrained by the Code of Ethics?

A strict reading of the Standard would bring us to that conclusion. However, let’s be real, one reason seasoned development officers are sought after by charities and command higher salaries is because those professionals have developed relationships with, and knowledge about, prospective donors while employed at other institutions. Would an AFP member be foreclosed from using that gained knowledge and be subject to reprimand under the AFP guidelines?

Fortunately, the Guidelines for the Standards recognize the reality that professionals cannot “wipe the slate clean” when they move from one position to another. Number 3 of the Examples of Ethical Practice within the Guideline for Standard 18 states “Clearly stating, when interviewing for new employment or presenting a consulting proposal, that donors with whom the member has been previously involved are not portable and will only be involved with the new organization if they are, or can become, through their own personal involvement, part of the new organization’s natural constituency.”

By being a member of AFP and adhering to the Code of Ethics, there is a presumption by employers and donors that we have the utmost regard for the trust they place in us and we would not breach that confidence. Our colleagues who are not members of AFP and do not profess adherence to the Code of Ethics (or a similar code) must establish that level of faith afresh.


October 15, 2009.  Rivers Club.

Submit your question or dilemma for discussion.

If you are not comfortable submitting an ethical dilemma on-line, you may still contribute to this project by submitting an ethical dilemma off-line.

Please send a typed letter, on plain white paper and no return address on the envelope, to:

AFP, Western PA Chapter

PO Box 10447

Pittsburgh, PA 15234

At the end of the letter, please indicate whether or not we may post it anonymously to our Blog or if you want us to hold it for our October meeting.  We promise to abide by your wishes.

Just like our on-line comments, all off-line comments will be reviewed to remove any identifiable or inappropriate content.  The sender will be kept anonymous.

The Western PA Chapter of AFP (AFPWPA) has created a Blog to discuss ethics in fundraising. The purpose of the Blog is to collect ethical dilemmas. These postings will be reviewed, clustered into themes, and discussed at the October program, “Real Life Ethical Dilemmas,” with Elliot S. Oshry, CFRE. Specifically, we want you to share your actual ethical dilemmas with others.

This Blog is for information only. Please note that no advice or suggestions will be provided by AFPWPA, and that no advice or suggestions about your dilemma will be posted to the Blog from your colleagues. The postings are to stimulate thought and to help ground Elliot’s presentation in your realities. If you have an ethical dilemma that cannot wait until October, please contact Paulette Maehara, CFRE, CAE, President and CEO of AFP International. She may be reached at

So log on to, follow the instructions, and submit your dilemma(s). All information submitted is subject to review prior to final posting to ensure that it does not contain any inappropriate content (including the names of actual people!). You can post anonymously.

Questions? Please contact Margaret Zabo at