NEWS: New theory of ethics will balance duties to donors and beneficiaries

Plymouth University’s fundraising think tank, Rogare, is bringing forward its project to develop a new theory of ‘normative’ fundraising ethics in a bid to stop the profession ‘making up its ethics on the hoof’ in response to the Olive Cooke case.

Ian MacQuillin, Rogare’s director, says:

Ian copy“There is currently huge demand for change in fundraising. People and organisations with loud voices are demanding an end to, as they see it, ‘unethical’ fundraising practices.

“The decisions the fundraising sector takes today will impact on charities’ abilities to raise the money they need to provide services for their beneficiaries for the next decade.

“For that reason, the fundraising profession has an ethical duty to ensure that any reforms enacted in response to the objections of certain stakeholders are correctly balanced with the long-term interests of the beneficiaries of voluntary organisations.”

In a nutshell, the core of the theory we are developing is:

Ethical fundraising balances the duty of fundraisers to ask for support, with the rights of other stakeholders not to be put under ‘undue’ pressure to donate.

(‘Undue pressure’ is the term used in the FRSB’s Fundraising Promise.)

MacQuillin adds:

“It seems likely that the recommendation – made by the FRSB in its interim report into the Olive Cooke case – to impose a limit on the number of times a charity may contact individuals would not strike the appropriate balance between duties to donors and beneficiaries.

“The fundraising profession needs to adopt a consistent foundational theory of normative ethics to inform its applied ethical decisions.

“It cannot continue changing its professional ethics on the hoof every time someone outside the profession disagrees with it.”

Work on the project has been going on for two months but we have now decided to describe some of our early thinking and ideas in the hope that it will contribute to the discussion about how fundraising needs to reform following the death of Olive Cooke and the slew of negative media stories that have resulted.

Initial thinking on this subject is outlined in a post on our Critical Fundraising blog. Work will continue over the summer.

The first formulation of the theory will be presented at the Institute of Fundraising Scotland’s conference in October, and we also plan to publish a working paper outlining our current thinking in more depth shortly.

We also hope to put together an interdisciplinary network to debate, discuss and develop the subject of fundraising ethics.

Associate members

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