[PODCAST] Avoid Becoming a Netflix Docudrama: A Discussion on Nonprofit Sector Ethics

The gray areas of nonprofit land are deep and wide. Many things we automatically deem inappropriate become considerable in the pursuit of good work (and survival). In this episode, Katie talks to Hannah Berger, a renowned nonprofit and philanthropy consultant who taught with Fundraising Academy. This “no holds barred” conversation examines why ethical issues arise in the sector and how nonprofit leaders can make discerning decisions.


All Money is Not Good Money

At some point, every fundraiser faces a situation where a gift raises questions. These questions could be about the gift’s intent or strings attached to the giver. Sometimes, it’s simply whether or not the gift can be properly stewarded. While it’s hard to fathom when you’re working day in and day out for every dollar raised, just because funding is offered, doesn’t mean it should be accepted. Some gifts bring complications and expectations that cause mission drift or undue pressure. On the largest scale, we see this with situations like the college admissions scandal that broke in 2019 or notorious figures making gifts to notable institutions, i.e., Madoff and Epstein as prime examples. 

While your organization may seem immune to this due to size or locality, you’re not. All nonprofit organizations should take a discretionary approach to raise funds. After all, not all money is good money. 

Making Generous Assumptions

Questioning a donor’s intent is a pretty surefire way to end the relationship. While it’s important to be discerning, Hannah reminds us to assume the best of our donors. In most situations, ethical dilemmas arise from naivete rather than bad intentions. Having open, honest, conversations reveal any ill-fitting motives and help create winning relationships.

Your donor has more assets than you, they do not have more knowledge.

Hannah Berger

Founder, The Philanthropy Coach

Gratitude Does Not Have to Mean Acceptance

Saying “no” to funding seems ungrateful, but gratitude can be handled separately from commitment. If you need time to contemplate an opportunity or gift, don’t delay in offering your appreciation. In fact, emphasizing gratitude can help donor/donee bonds remain strong even at times when the gift is not appropriate or acceptable. 

Keeping Each Other Accountable

Hannah shares a wealth of resources for checking scenarios against best practices and using peer networks to hold your organization (and yourself!) accountable. Here are some of the resources she shared for nonprofits:

Fundraising Academy

AFP Global Code of Ethics

Council of Nonprofits 

Peer Groups, i.e., Cause Network!

Shout out to the cause selling experts at Fundraising Academy for making this podcast possible!

Hannah Berger Nonprofit Sector Ethics Image

Katie Appold

Katie’s nonprofit career includes a variety of leadership roles for human service, foundation, and publishing-related nonprofits as well as many volunteer roles. Under Katie’s leadership, nonprofit organizations have developed new programs related to free healthcare, affordable and accessible housing and literacy programs for K-12 students. In her first Executive Director role, Katie increased the annual revenue of the organization she led by 300% and received the top grant prize in the nation for affordable housing through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis. Today, she leads Nonprofit Hub and Cause Camp, which collectively serve more than 50,000 nonprofits throughout North America. Her educational background includes an undergraduate degree in business administration and a masters degree in nonprofit leadership. Katie serves as the board president of Gracious Grounds, a housing organization serving individuals with disabilities. She is an active member of the Grand Rapids Young Nonprofit Professionals, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Cause Network, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

March 25, 2022

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