Nonprofit Fundraiser’s Bill of Rights


I have been a respectful adherent of the Donor Bill of Rights since entering the field of nonprofit fundraising. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) outlines the following code of conduct, and I recommend it highly:

“Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To ensure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the nonprofit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights”:

I. To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

II. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.

IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.

VI. To be assured that information about their donation is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

VII. To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.

VIII. To be informed whether those seeking donations are volunteers, employees of the organization or hired solicitors.

IX. To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.

X. To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.”

Front view portrait of four business executives sitting in a line

But I believe a “Nonprofit Fundraiser’s Bill of Rights” is also in order. Those in positions of leadership on the staff and Board need to consider a few professional concerns.

Nonprofit development staff have a right:

I. To be informed of how the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use those donations effectively for their intended purposes.

By reiterating AFP’s first tenet, I suggest that nonprofit development staff are sometimes asked to solicit donations but over time, they may discover the funds are not being used as originally planned. The nonprofit may be unable to effectively carry out the project as intended. Development staff can be tremendous allies in this situation. They should be informed and given the opportunity to translate changes to the donors they solicited originally, thereby ensuring an honest relationship with donors and retaining personal and professional integrity.

Sometimes nonprofit organizations fear a negative reaction from donors if a change of direction is necessary. But I have found if changes and challenges are aired in a forthright manner, donors appreciate the candor and often continue to give!

II. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

This is a form of protection for fundraising professionals as well.

Development professionals need to be able to learn about, meet and interact with those serving on the Board in order to function properly in their jobs. But sometimes senior executives prevent interaction between development professionals on staff and Board members. This is a mistake.

Most Board members welcome the advice and support of development staff. If they do not, problems may ensue. Development professionals are donor advocates and protectors. When allowed to do their job properly, the better the reputation of the nonprofit, its Board, and each and every donor with whom they work.

I once heard a foundation staff member arrogantly proclaim they were only “friends” with donors, not “development officers,” as if being a development officer is a very lowly office. Beware: oftentimes the development officer is the most knowledgeable person in the office, and the one who cares about the organization’s donors the most. They will fight for you if you allow them to do so.

III. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.

Not only should nonprofit development staff have access to Form 990s – which today one can find readily on GuideStar – they should be encouraged to review those financial documents and to become knowledgeable about them. As donors and professional advisors become more savvy (and discerning), being armed with this knowledge is essential to functioning properly on the job.

I have a case study on GuideStar, should you be interested in reading about a personal experience in this regard.

IV. To be assured the gifts they solicit will be used for the purposes for which they were given.

Similar to the first tenet discussed, development staff should be informed if a donation is not being used for its intended purpose. Staff should be given the opportunity to discuss any such changes with the donor(s) they solicited originally.

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.

Those of us in the field know it is often the case that volunteers help open doors and solicit gifts from individuals, families, foundations, corporations and agencies.

But sometimes it the fundraising professional on staff who has conducted the necessary research to identify outstanding donors, and who has made the all-important introduction to a donor with whom they have become acquainted.

Hard work and successful staff achievements should be acknowledged and recognized by nonprofit administrators and members of the Board. Yes, volunteers need and deserve recognition, but don’t forget the development staff!

Retention of development staff is a challenge. Yet these very individuals solicit and steward donations that are critical to the survival of most nonprofit organizations. Recognition for a job well done is key.

Although normally quiet when it comes to religious opinions, I suggest you follow this link to an inspiring tweet by Joel Osteen:

“Praise is powerful. Praise will break chains, turn problems around and defeat enemies. Praise will give you the victory.”

VI. To be assured that information about donations are handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

Sometimes development staff are not kept in the “loop” when donations are announced by organizational representatives verbally, online or in print. Fundraising staff must guide the announcement process and help the nonprofit they represent maintain the wishes of each donor regarding confidentiality, proper name spelling, announcement timing and the like.

In my experience, marketing and public information specialists rarely enjoy being under the supervision of development departments. Sometimes the concern is that their work is more “pure,” as they seek to represent the institution factually to the public and to the media … and they do not wish to be “tainted” by donor money. But nonprofits survive by securing charitable donations, and these two staff functions must work together harmoniously.

VII. To expect those individuals representing nonprofit organizations be treated professionally by donors and potential donors. Should a breach in professional behavior occur, leadership staff and/or Board leadership should step in to address the situation promptly and protect the staff in question.

I have reworded this tenet to reflect situations I have witnessed or experienced personally. Nonprofit development staff should not feel that in order to cultivate a donor relationship they must run personal errands for donors, become a personal driver or shopper, or conduct other business unrelated to the nonprofit organization and its mission.

Should a donor or prospect become verbally abusive or make improper advances, development staff should be encouraged to report such activity to their superiors, and they should expect to be protected. They should not fear being fired.

Nonprofits are hungry for charitable donations, but we as a sector must retain integrity. Nonprofit organizations should not allow improper behavior because they are desperate for funding (from any and all sources). Of course, handling delicate situations diplomatically is essential.

VIII. To be fully informed regarding who is responsible for securing donations, whether they be volunteers, fellow employees of the organization or hired solicitors.

Nonprofit development staff may be assigned other tasks while volunteers and/or consultants assume the task of soliciting donations for special projects. A clear delineation of duties and assignments is essential. All must work together and avoid competing needlessly.

IX. To have access to all internal mailing lists and to be charged to act on behalf of donors who request their name(s) be removed. This is especially important in the case of non-development mailing lists that may be shared with others.

Separate divisions of nonprofit organizations sometimes maintain their own mailing lists. To ensure compliance with donor wishes and confidentiality, development staff should also be encouraged to review the mailing lists of divisions other than their own and to request changes as necessary. This is what we call today, “breaking down silos.” Follow the link to an excellent definition of office silos on Webopedia.

X. To respond promptly to donor questions, development staff must receive truthful and forthright answers from their nonprofit’s leadership and fellow nonprofit staff members.

It goes without saying, to represent a nonprofit to the public and respond to donor and potential donor inquiries, development staff must ask many questions internally in order to fully understand its activities. Encourage their inquiries!

The public may not be aware – but should be – that development staff are often as knowledgeable about the inner workings of a nonprofit as the director and members of the Board (and they should be).

Here is hoping for greater understanding and respect for nonprofit fundraising executives. They are a precious resource for which we should give thanks!

In closing, I share an appreciative article from The Guardian, “Fundraisers Go Above and Beyond – They Deserve Respect From Charity Colleagues” (March 29, 2015).

Carolyn M. Appleton

November 15, 2014 (updated April 1, 2015)

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