Not long ago, an acquaintance of mine informed me that the organization he serves as a Board member was in the market for a new Executive Director. He told me what they were really looking for was someone with fundraising knowledge that could take them to the next level.
I learned recently that the hiring committee has whittled the applicant pool down to several candidates, so I asked my acquaintance what made the group decide on those particular individuals. He told me that they had long history in the community working with similar organizations, but what was most important to the committee was the major donors they had obtained for their employers which they would bring to his organization. An alarm went off in my mind when he said that.
Over the years, I have had my share of interviews for development positions with various nonprofit organizations. Whether they were with HR Managers, Development Directors or hiring committees made up of Board members, they have been pretty much alike. The interviewers have asked about my education, my skill set, my knowledge, my training and my actual experience. Many times they have asked a silly question like, “If you could be a super hero, who would you be?” or “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” They have asked the “tell me about a time” behavioral question from past positions to determine my reaction to a situation that may come up in my potential employment. All of these are reasonable questions that I was willing to answer.
Eventually, the interviewer would ask a question that I would not answer. “Who are your past donors that you can bring in to support our cause?” I couldn’t answer that question because I cannot give them something that is not mine to give.
In the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Code of Ethical Principles and Standards it specifically says: “Members shall adhere to the principle that all donor and prospect information created by, or on behalf of, an organization or client is the property of that organization or client and shall not be transferred or utilized except on behalf of that organization or client.” That clearly means that if you researched and cultivated a donor relationship while working for an organization, you cannot take that donor with you to your next job at another nonprofit. It is considered stealing from your past employer.
Sadly, I think this situation comes up far too often, considering the frequent turnover in development professionals. I think organizations put too much emphasis on getting major donors and their money quickly, instead of taking the time to research and cultivate the necessary relationships to enhance support for their organizations.
It is unlikely that many HR Managers or hiring committees know about or have read The AFP Code of Ethics, so they don’t know they are asking a question that a candidate should not be answering. If they had read the code, they would not have an expectation that a candidate would bring another organization’s donors to their nonprofit.
However, the candidates should know about the ethical issues of taking donors to a new organization. They should not make promises to bring high value connections in order to get a better job. If that is how they get their leg up on their competition, then there is a problem.
After my conversation with my acquaintance, I sent him an email to share my thoughts and opinions about these new donors the candidates promised. I included a link to the AFP Code of Ethics, and suggested that he read them carefully, especially number 18. He sent a reply thanking me, and said he would pass the information on to the rest of the committee.
I can only wonder if the potential dollar signs in the committee’s eyes will make them overlook the ethical issue involved. If the Board hires one of these candidates based on their ethical lapse, I worry about the organization and its future.