A few years ago, I used to go to a monthly networking event in Portland, Oregon that was for people involved in “green” businesses and environmentally based nonprofits. It was a good place to meet potential partners for my fundraising business.
I happened to meet a gentleman at one of these events who wanted to start a business that made a unique gardening system that he wanted to market to public housing developments and other urban dwellers that didn’t have the space for a traditional garden. He wasn’t having much success finding investors for his idea, and I could understand his dilemma, as I had the same problem trying to get my business off the ground. We chatted some more, exchanged business cards, and went on to meet other people at the event.
A week or two later, I received an email from him asking if I would consider writing a grant request for his project. He found a state agency he thought might give him the funding to get his business off the ground. I told him I would consider it, but we would have to negotiate fair compensation. I estimated the hours of research and writing it would take, and then gave him an idea what it would cost for my services. He thought about my offer, then gave me a counter offer of 25% of the grant money he would get.
I told him I could not accept that offer because I could not ethically accept those terms. He could pay me an hourly wage, or he could pay me a set fee for my services, but I couldn’t accept a percentage of the money raised through grants.
I have seen similar offers over the years on job boards, Craig’s List, and even on Linked In. I have also had requests from potential clients who wanted me to set up a fundraising event for them and offered to give me a percentage of the money raised. Usually these offers were placed by someone who recently started their own nonprofit, and they knew very little about professional ethics of fundraising professionals.
Each time I received an offer or saw an ad, I would politely decline and send the organization or individual an email telling them they would not get the help of an ethical fundraiser because that kind of compensation is not allowed. I would send them the link to the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards where it states, “Members shall not accept compensation or enter into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions; nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees. Business members must refrain from receiving compensation from third parties derived from products or services for a client without disclosing that third-party compensation to the client(for example, volume rebates from vendors to business members).”
I believe that individual fundraising practitioners, aka consultants, face this issue far more than employees of organization. As a consultant in this current economy, it is sometimes difficult to turn down work when you have bills that need to be paid, and it is likely that those groups I had to turn down found someone to agree to their offers. How it worked out for them, I don’t know, but I can say that I feel better about my choices professionally.