The rights of beneficiaries have been ignored by the sector’s response to the fundraising crisis of 2015, according to the fundraising academics Ian MacQullin and Adrian Sargeant.
In a paper called Fundraising Ethics: A Rights-Balancing Approach, published last week in the Journal of Business Ethics, MacQuillin and Sargeant also call for responsibility for the Code of Fundraising Practice to be removed from the Fundraising Regulator and returned to fundraisers.
The paper acknowledges that fundraising needed to "clean up its act" after poor practices such as pressuring vulnerable people for money were exposed by the media in 2015.
But, it says, "rather than create a further series of knee-jerk and bespoke adjustments to the code", there should be "a systematic review of the underlying ethical frameworks that should be shaping our decision-making".
The regulator, which was established after the scandals of 2015, has frequently described itself as representing the voice of donors, the paper says, but fundraisers are in fact answerable to two constituencies: the donors and the beneficiaries.
The regulator has adopted a "consumer protections ethos", the paper says, meaning there is a very real danger that in ethical decision-making priority will be given to the donors’ needs because they have the greatest capacity to influence the regulator.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the regulator oversees the code, it says.
"If the code is to become a living code, adapting organically to in response to changes in the environment… ownership of the code should be returned to the profession," the paper says, adding that the code should be considered not only in day-to-day decisions, but also in the development of strategy and culture.
The paper calls for their rights to be balanced with those of the donor when considering ethical dilemmas in fundraising, such as whether it is right to make donors feel guilty in order to encourage them to donate.
"The rights of the beneficiary have to date been ignored," the paper says.
It adds that there is "a very real danger that in the rush to protect the interests of one vulnerable group in society, we could do grave and permanent harm to another".
If the code and regulatory framework do not change to take this into account, the paper warns, "we may not ask for donations we should have solicited, actions for which our beneficiaries will rightly condemn us".