Ethical considerations

When fundraising, voluntary organisations face a dilemma in balancing the need to raise as much money as possible for their cause with doing it in an appropriate and ethical way, particularly from members of the general public and companies.

From the public

The pressure on charities to increase the amount of unrestricted income they generate from the public has led some to employ some fundraising practices that have been criticised. You may have seen some of the press headlines about charities repeatedly contacting donors and sending emotive material to them. The possible negative impact on vulnerable donors, such as older people, was of particular concern. Whilst the majority of charities were not associated with the scandal, it will have a lasting impact on how all charities fundraise.

Described image
Figure 11 Press story about vulnerable donor.

Until recently, charities were most concerned about not appearing to spend too much charity money on fundraising. They wanted to be able to say that as many ‘pennies in the pound’ as possible went straight to their cause. So they used whichever fundraising tactics generated the most money for the smallest cost. Door-to-door fundraising, direct mail and street fundraising all generated very good returns. They were therefore seen as sensible, ethical choices because they were making the best returns from the charity’s investment and had the smallest financial risk.

However, the mood about what is ethical is now changing with the attention on any possible negative effect on the individual donors themselves. The press stories highlighted that some individuals had been bombarded by fundraising requests from a small number of charities, causing them considerable distress. These cases galvanised action to increase regulation of charity fundraising. The voluntary sector established a new Fundraising Regulator with a code of fundraising practice, a complaints system for the public and a fundraising preference service to allow donors to remove themselves from email and phone lists.

From companies

Another interesting dilemma that voluntary organisations face is considering whether to accept money from corporate sources that have general ethical questions surrounding them, for instance a donation from a company that sells animal fur, a tobacco company or a bank that allegedly invests in the arms or weapons trade.

Strictly speaking, voluntary organisations have a responsibility to promote and serve their beneficiaries above all else and if the funding organisation doesn’t have a directly negative effect on their beneficiaries then there is no official reason that they cannot accept the money. But many voluntary organisations hold values that they live out through their work that lead them to decline money from companies that do not hold the same values. There is no particular regulation in this area and it is up to the individual voluntary organisation to debate the pros and cons of sources of income.

Grants: Writing better bids

A fundraising case example