If you own a television, you have seen those commercials. Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, Ford and Chevy, Dish Network and Comcast, many cell phone companies, and of course, political candidates, try to make themselves look good by running down the competition. Personally, that method of advertising doesn’t work for me.
When I first started writing my blog, I did so as the Fundraising and Marketing Chair for the Board of an all volunteer organization that served the nonprofit sector in Portland, Oregon. The Board wanted me to have a byline that mentioned my background in the sector and included the name of my business, Greater Good Fundraising, and after a couple of controversial posts, Discrimination in the Nonprofit Sector: It Does Exist and Do Nonprofit HR Coordinators really Appreciate Volunteers? , they wanted a disclosure statement saying these were my personal opinions and not necessarily those of the Board. Understandably, they were afraid I might offend someone.
One day, I received an email from another Board member asking if I had read the complaint posted on our Linked In group. A local nonprofit consultant wrote a long diatribe describing me as personally and professionally unethical. He felt that, because the byline mentioned the name of my business, I was profiting from my position and work for the organization. (Little did he know that my nascent business had not had paying clients at that time.) In the dozen or so posts I had written at that point, I only mentioned my business once, and that was in the context of potential clients that lacked the confidence in their group to raise money for their program. He also complained that I would not allow anyone else to post a blog on the website, even though he, nor anyone else, ever asked to write one.
I consulted with the Board, as well as several nonprofit bloggers I had come to know at that time. In their opinions, no one saw an ethical violation except the person complaining. I and several others responded to his post stating that he really had nothing to complain about, and some mentioned that his doing so in such a public manner was wrong. He eventually deleted the post and life went on. Since that time, he commented on a couple of subsequent posts, ridiculing my positions and opinions, but the comments came off as ham-handed juvenile attempts to discredit me, and made me wonder about his knowledge of the ethical standards he accused me of violating and his knowledge of how nonprofits work. The funny thing is, beside the fact we both offered our services to nonprofit clients, our businesses had little else in common.
I realize that we are living in tough economic times. More and more nonprofits around the country are vying for a limited amount of support available from major donors and foundations, consultants are competing for jobs when client organizations have tight budgets to pay their fees, and there are more applicants for jobs than openings available. However, trying to get a leg up on the competition by disparaging them publicly or privately is unprofessional and unethical. It reeks of desperation and is unseemly.
The AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards states “Members shall refrain from any activity designed to disparage competitors untruthfully.” Whether you are part of an organization competing for grants against other organizations with similar programs, or a consultant competing for a contract, you should make a better case for yourself, rather than putting down your competition. When asked, truthfully explain the differences of your methods and services, and those of your competitor. If you take the low road, you only make yourself and/or your organization look bad. You do a disservice to everyone involved.
As I noted in my introduction to this series of posts, I will not name individuals for public shaming, and I will not name the individual who inspired this post. Should he read this, I can only hope he will think about this subject and take it to heart.