Reviewing fundraising's professional ethics

What fundraisers may or may not do

The profession of fundraising contains plenty of ethical prescriptions, which are mainly contained in its codes of practice – such as the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice in the UK, and the Donor Bill of Rights, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, in the USA. These codes therefore contain ‘applied’ ethics that tell fundraisers what they may or may not do.

Why they may or may not do certain things

However, very little thought has been given to a unifying theory of ethics that might underpin the applied ethics that appears in these codes. A ‘normative’ theory of fundraising ethics would explain to fundraisers (or more properly, help them figure out for themselves) why they may or may not do certain things.

‘Summer of discontent’

Fundraising practices such as direct mail, telephone and street fundraising, corporate partnerships and data sharing are regularly put under the ethical spotlight all around the world. This was never more so than in the UK during the summer of 2015, but the issues raised during fundraising’s ‘summer of discontent’ are relevant globally.

When ethical issues arise, change is often demanded. But without a normative ethical theory underpinning professional practice, changes at a policy level are often ad hoc and arbitrary.

New theory

To rectify this situation, Rogare is developing a new theory of normative fundraising ethics:

Fundraising is ethical when it balances the duty of fundraisers to ask for support (on behalf of their beneficiaries) with the right of the public not to be put under undue pressure to donate.

What we want to achieve

  • 6 a. Improve ethical decision making by fundraisers in their day-to-day roles.
  • A b. Empower fundraisers to ethically justify, advocate and defend their actions to stakeholders (public, colleagues, boards, regulators, politicians and media).
  • ) c. Improve ethical decision making in fundraising at a strategic policy level by ensuring fundraising policies are ethically coherent and consistent and not developed solely as a reaction to allegations of unethical practice.
  • > d. Advance fundraising’s claims to professionhood by putting its professional ethics on a firmer foundation.
  • ; e. Reduce skepticism about, criticism of, and hostility to fundraising (from the likes of media and politicians) by demonstrating a coherent theory of professional ethics that underpins those activities that attract criticism.
  • . f. Reinvigorate fundraising ethics as a subject for academic study and practitioner relevance.

How we propose to do it

  • Develop a new normative theory of fundraising ethics that seeks to balance fundraisers’ duties to their beneficiaries with those of their donors and other stakeholders, and that has universal, global application.
  • Develop a global map of fundraising ethics, identifying how fundraisers currently approach ethical dilemmas and which models of normative ethics they currently use and would be likely to use in the future. This will allow us to assess if fundraisers in different countries or cultures approach ethical dilemmas differently and therefore what elements of any new or existing theories of fundraising ethics would achieve the most effect.
  • Assemble a multidisciplinary advisory group comprising fundraisers with a philosophy/ethics background and academics specializing in nonprofit ethics to oversee and shape the project.
  • Regular publication programme of white papers, blogs, and articles as our project progresses.
Read an outline of the thinking behind our new theory on the Critical Fundraising blog – The Gaping Hole at the Centre of Fundraising Ethics.

See an inventory of all the Critical Fundraising blogs exploring ethical issues.

Theory of fundraising ethics

Watch Rogare’s director Ian MacQuillin talk about the new theory of fundraising ethics.

Fundraising ethics advisory group

  • *Jessica Burgess – Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (UK)
  • Nuri Heckler – University of Colorado, Denver (USA)
  • **Derek Humphries – DTV Group (UK)
  • Matthew Iredale – Shelter (UK)
  • *Cherian Koshy – director of development, Des Moines Performing Arts (USA)
  • Heather McGinness – Concordia College (USA)
  • Lucy Masterton – ceo, Fundraising Ireland (Ireland)
  • *Meredith Niles – Marie Curie Cancer Care (UK)
  • *Clive Pedley – Giving Architects (New Zealand)
  • Kathy Roddy – Kathy Roddy Training (UK)
  • Paul Stadelhoffer – Fundraiser Magazin (Germany)
  • Marty Sulek – Indiana University (USA)
  • *Roewen Wishart – Xponential Fundraising (Australia) 

* Rogare advisory panel member
** Rogare Associate Member

Rogare’s director has presented on fundraising ethics at:

  • Institute of Fundraising (Scotland) conference, October 2015
  • International Fundraising Congress, Netherlands, October 2015
  • Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference, Boston, USA March 2016
  • Fundraising Ireland Conference Dublin, 2016
  • Fundraising Institute of New Zealand Conference, April 2016, Auckland – opening plenary 
  • Finish Regular Giving Association conference, September 2016, Helsinki
  • Institute of Fundraising (Scotland) conference, Glasgow, October 2016
  • International Fundraising Congress, Netherlands, October 2016
  • APF International, San Francisco, May 2017
  • Swedish Fundraising Association, May 2017


Forthcoming events include:

  • Institute of Fundraising conference, London, July 2017
  • International Fundraising consultants special interest group conference, September 2017

Rogare Advisory Panel ethics special interest group

  • Rodrigo Alvarez – Mobiliza Consulting (Brazil)
  • Jennifer Brake –  development officer, St Louis Public Radio (USA)
  • Clay Buck – annual fund director, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts (USA)
  • Zoe Bunter – Leprosy Mission England and Wales (UK)
  • Jessica Burgess – Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (UK)
  • Paula Dixon – business psychologist, Hazon Consulting (UK)
  • Carole French – fundraising and sponsorship, Auckland Zoo (New Zealand)
  • Scott Gray – Rapidata (UK)
  • Lianne Howared-Dace – innovation manager, Christian Aid (UK)
  • Derek Humphries – DTV Group (UK)
  • Joe Jenkins – The Children's Society (UK)
  • Leif Wien Jensen – Norwegian Blind Association (Norway)
  • Simon Johnson – Royal British Legion (UK)
  • Gary Kernahan – Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (UK)
  • Cherian Koshy – director of development, Des Moines Performing Arts (USA)
  • Abbi Leinwald-Heggarty – director of development, Richmond CentreStage (USA)
  • Kimberley MacKenzie – consultant (Canada)
  • Tim McInnis – Telethon Kids (Australia)
  • Nick Mason – consultant (UK)
  • Meredith Niles – Marie Curie Cancer Care (UK)
  • Beth Oppenheim – associate director, Church World Service (South Africa)
  • David Pearce – director of fundraising and marketing, Dignity in Dying
  • Clive Pedley – Giving Architects (New Zealand)
  • Lesley Ray – Mater Foundation (Australia)
  • Beth Rose – Alaska Community Foundation (USA)
  • Adrian Salmon – Grenzebach Glier and Associates (UK)
  • Simon Scriver – head of fundraising, One in Four Ireland (Ireland)
  • Amanda Shepard – independent consultant (UK)
  • Ruth Smyth – planning and insight director, BoldLight (UK)
  • Nathalie Veenman – RNW Media (Netherlands)
  • Chris Washington-Sare – Pentatonic Marketing (UK)
  • David Walwin – Ethicall (UK)
  • Dom Will – HOME Fundraising (UK)
  • Roewen Wishart – Xponential Fundraising (Australia)