Does your ethical policy empower or distract?

‘Should we accept money from the arms manufacturer?’
I was recently coaching the fundraising director of a small charity with a connection to the armed services. She said one of her biggest time-wasters was internal arguments about whether to accept support from a particular military supplier.
I asked if she had an ethical policy which the Directors and Trustees had agreed upon. She was new in post, but wasn’t aware that they had one. You don’t need much imagination to hear everyone chipping in their two-penny worth. There are contexts in which there is great value in a debate, but not if it happens every week and causes distraction, disillusion and dithering.
So I have three questions for you.

  1. Does your charity have an ethical policy that has been agreed upon?
  2. Do all of your fundraisers (especially corporate, major donor and event fundraisers) know what it is and the rationale for the position your directors or trustees have taken?
  3. Do your fundraisers know the process to follow if they are not sure whether to approach or accept money from a particular donor?

If your answer to the above questions is ‘no’, I guarantee your charity is wasting dozens of hours of productivity per month.
Why does it disrupt your ability to hit your target?
Because as long as there isn’t a policy (or there is but your people don’t understand its rationale and how to use it), then whenever an issue arises, they will not be able to resist debating whether or not your charity should accept the money. Because they care! Caring is one of their great strengths.
But whose values do you think they’ll use? Their own of course. And however like-minded the people who work for you, there are bound to be differences in values. The decision to deny your beneficiaries some urgent help through this gift, should never be based on whether the individual fundraiser personally disapproves of any given fast food brand, tax-dodging coffee company or fat cat banker.
Could you adapt this simple, three step policy?
I really like the ethical policy we used to use at NSPCC when I worked there, not least because it was so simple (and therefore people tended to remember and use it as a helpful thinking tool). It was explained to me by the excellent Giles Pegram CBE, then fundraising director at the NSPCC.
As far as I can remember it, he said that wherever possible we should aim to accept donations, unless:

  1. The would-be supporter or corporate partner had gained the money illegally
  2. The would-be supporter or corporate partner behaved contrary to the objectives of our charity
  3. To accept the donation would be counter-productive for the charity over-all

Question 1 should present few challenges, but proactively answering question 2 is valuable. For example, to empower your corporate fundraisers to proactively pursue a dream ten partners strategy, it’s important that they know which categories of company do not meet the criteria for question 2. Some might be obvious – health charities not working with tobacco companies – but are there some grey areas that need to be debated now, so that everyone knows your position and the rationale for it.
Answering question 3 requires judgement and will often rest not with individual fundraisers, but with the director of communications and/or fundraising. But critically, do your fundraisers understand this, and who to talk to if they’re not sure?
Clarity is power.
If you are a leader, have you done everything you can to remove the barriers that might prevent your relationship fundraisers from getting out and building relationships with the right people?