Conflicting demands of fundraisers and donors bring ethical problems, says think tank

Rogare paper outlines its theory of rights-based fundraising ethics

Fundraising: ethical dilemma
Fundraising: ethical dilemma

The sometimes conflicting demands of beneficiaries and donors can cause ethical dilemmas for fundraisers, according to a new paper from the fundraising think tank Rogare.

The paper says both donors and beneficiaries possess certain rights when it comes to fundraisers, but these sometimes come into conflict, such as when donors don’t want to be asked so often for money by fundraisers but beneficiaries need to maximise the available income to provide services.

The paper outlines a theory that fundraising is ethical when it strikes an appropriate balance between the two: the best overall outcome being one that does not cause significant harm to either stakeholder group.

The theory, which is called "rights-balancing fundraising ethics" and has been under development since April 2015, says: "Fundraising is ethical when it balances the duty of fundraisers to solicit support on behalf of their beneficiaries with the right of donors not to be subjected to undue pressure to donate."

The paper says a fundraising campaign that repeatedly solicited donors who had requested not to be contacted would be unbalanced, and therefore unethical, because the donors would not be protected from unreasonable intrusion into their privacy nor unreasonably persistent approaches.

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

Rogare, which is based at Plymouth University, has been a vocal opponent of the Fundraising Regulator’s plans to introduce a new Fundraising Preference Service early next year. 

Ian MacQuillin, director of Rogare, said: "Surprising as it may seem, rights-balancing fundraising ethics brings beneficiaries into ethical decision-making in fundraising for the first time.

"What normative thinking there has been quite startlingly ignores beneficiaries and focuses almost exclusively on fundraisers’ duties to their donors."

The theory is contained in a paper, called Rights Stuff: fundraising’s ethics gap and a new normative theory of fundraising ethics, which is the first part a full review of fundraising’s professional ethics, first announced by Rogare in June 2015. It is expected to take at least another year to complete.

The next part of the review will entail carrying out a global survey of the existing ethical decision-making processes currently employed by fundraisers. Rogare’s projects advisory group – whose members include Meredith Niles, fundraising director at the terminal illness charity Marie Curie, Matthew Iredale, senior prospects researcher at the housing charity Shelter, and Derek Humphries, director of the advertising agency DTV – plan to further develop the ideas presented in the white paper.

The review will include a new project that will apply rights-balancing fundraising ethics to the question of how beneficiaries are framed in marketing materials.

Rogare has a meeting scheduled with Bond, the umbrella organisation for aid agencies, to scope out the terms of the project.

Humphries, whose agency DTV works with clients including World Animal Protection, Barnardo’s and Battersea Dog’s Home, said there was a need to reframe the debate around how beneficiaries were presented because it had become "unhelpfully adversarial".

He said: "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."

He said that Rogare’s new theory would help this situation "by introducing the notion of balance in one’s duties to beneficiaries".

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