Donor’s rights are just as important as charities’ right to fundraise


A new ethical theory finds the need for a greater balance between the right of donors not to be badgered and the right of charities to fundraise 

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26th September 2016 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Ethical fundraising must strike a balance between the needs of charities and the needs of donors, an expert think tank has said.

Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University, has said it is time for a new theory of fundraising ethics that properly recognises the duty on beneficiaries to consider the rights of donors.

Director Ian MacQuillin argues in his Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics theory that problems arise when the rights of donors and the rights of beneficiaries come into conflict.

There is very little in the way of normative ethics that helps fundraisers understand why they ought or ought not to do particular things

Ethical dilemmas in fundraising occur when there is tension between what donors want fundraisers to do (ask for less, in different ways or at different times, or not at all) and what beneficiaries need fundraisers to do (maximise income to provide services).

The new theory makes the case that fundraising is ethical when it strikes an appropriate balance between the two: the best overall outcome being one that doesn’t cause significant harm to either stakeholder group.

For example, a fundraising campaign that repeatedly solicits donors who had requested not to be contacted would be unethical because they would not be protected from unreasonable intrusion into their privacy nor unreasonably persistent approaches (both prohibited by fundraising’s applied ethics contained in the Code of Practice).

But regulation that prevents fundraisers from contacting vast swathes of people could also be unethical because it could significantly harm beneficiaries, and if it did, would therefore also be unethical.

MacQuillin said: “For such a fundamentally important topic, there has been surprisingly little theory development of fundraising ethics over the past 25 years.

“Fundraisers have a lot of applied ethics contained in their codes of practice, which tells them what they may or may not do. But there is very little in the way of normative ethics that helps fundraisers understand why they ought or ought not to do particular things, or provides a context for their ethical decision making frameworks.”

Rogare’s paper – Rights Stuff: Fundraising’s ethics gap and a new normative theory of fundraising ethics – is the first part a full review of fundraising’s professional ethics that is expected to take at least a year.

The next step in the review includes a global survey of the existing ethical decision making processes fundraisers currently employ, and the elaboration and development of the ideas presented in the white paper.

The review will also include a new project that will apply Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics to the question of how beneficiaries are framed in marketing materials.

Derek Humphries, creative director at Rogare Associate Member DTV, who will help lead this project form the Rogare side, said: “The framing debate has become unhelpfully adversarial. Fundraisers are accused of exploiting beneficiaries – even that word has become contentious. Meanwhile fundraisers accuse policy folk of getting angry about fundraising images instead of angry about the injustice that good causes seek to address.

“Of course, here I simplify a range of passionate views. Passion is a good thing, a necessary thing, in our work. But we need level-headed clarity, not infighting. We need to reframe the debate. Rogare’s new theory helps by introducing the notion of balance in one’s duties to beneficiaries: raising money and challenging stereotypes.”