Fundraisers work in many varied fields, countries and circumstances, but they share several fundamental values and practices: they work to make a difference, help others and save what is valuable, in fact to make the world a better place. It is for these reasons that fundraisers strive to identify and employ best practices in their approaches and abide a Code of Professional Ethics in their country whilst adhering to a single universal declaration of fundamental principles.
But is fundraising being done professionally and properly in South Africa, is it time to self-regulate?
When an industry becomes a profession there is a need for those involved to put the interests of the client or the community ahead of the cause or themselves. Anxious to change the public image of fundraisers and fundraising the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising (SAIF) was established in 1987 with a purpose to learn new methods together; to compare notes; and to sharpen skills. SAIF introduced a code of professional fundraising ethics as a prerequisite for joining but monitoring members in their execution of the codes is difficult, colleagues are often ousted through whistle blowing but this doesn’t inspire public trust and confidence in what is described as a Profession!
A heated debate always ensues around Commission-based Fundraisers. Many regard fundraising as a type of sales and marketing activity, to them it makes sense to remunerate fundraisers in relation to the “sales” they make. However, as ethical fundraisers all over the world know, fundraising is far more complex and is primarily based on relationship development over many years and requires the efforts of more than one person. Besides it’s unfair to the donor that their generous donation has been divvyed up with an individual.
Fundraising on a commission basis is not illegal but is considered unethical and is therefore included in the SAIF Code to protect donors and set standards but it is the employers or members of the board of non-profit organisations (NPOs) that enforce this practice which often ends in tears or leads to reputational risk or even litigation.
No professional fundraising institute in the world will encourage fundraising fees based on the amounts raised by an individual. The ethical fundraiser’s recompense is based on predetermined fees or salary based principally on the levels of knowledge, skill, experience and time employed plus other levels of proficiency.
When non-profit organisations (NPO) launch fundraising campaigns such as Cansa’s ‘Movember’ or Gift of the Givers emergency relief appeals for earthquakes or floods they gain media attention and tug at the hearts of people through emotive messaging. The most often asked questions are “how much of the donated funds reach the organisation?” and “how much goes to actual service provision?” Sadly few are able to adequately respond to these question and less will report back to the public on how much was raised and how money or goods were dispensed, yet they have an obligation and a duty to do this.
Trust is not easily won and it’s therefore imperative that NPOs remain open, transparent and accountable to their supporters in how funds are utilized. The onus is on donors to check the legal status of an organisation; if it has an NPO registration number with the Department of Social Development and/or Public Benefit status (PBO) with the South African Revenue Services (SARS). Adherence to a code of ethics and abidance by individual members of SAIF is inadequate; organisations must develop an internal culture of ethics and best practice, yet this is not satisfactorily done in South Africa.
There are five important universal fundamental principles for fundraisers:
The question we need to ask is how do we instill ethics and principles and ensure that loyalty from the public is respected?
Joining a Professional body and signing a Code of Ethics is not enough, the time has arrived for the NPO sector to self-regulate fundraising by demonstrating best practice, eliminate poor practice and increase public trust and confidence through an education process of setting standards either in training programmes or introduce additional Codes of Fundraising Practice linked to legal requirements.
By Ann Bown
Ann Bown of Charisma Consulting is a past President of the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising and is the current Chairperson of Ethics and Good Governance Committee.
Acknowledgements to the Institute of Fundraising (UK) and Fundraising Institute of New Zealand
Ann Bown - Charisma Consulting
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