Could it be unethical not to ask for a sufficiently high gift?

How can fundraisers ensure they act ethically towards both their donors and their beneficiaries?

There’s an unacknowledged ethical dilemma at the heart of professional fundraising practice: How do you balance your duties to both your donors and your beneficiaries? In fact, some fundraisers would deny such a tension even exists, arguing that what’s right for donors is ipso facto also right for donors. But that’s not necessarily true.

This session will look at the different duties that fundraisers owe to both the donors and their beneficiaries. It will also look at whether as a profession we sometimes afford too much accountability to donors, leading to the challenge of ‘donor dominance’, and why fundraisers have had such a hard time recognising this as a phenomenon and dealing with it.

But what does shifting professional ethics to a beneficiary perspective look like? Could it be unethical not to ask for a high enough gift? Could it be unethical not to use so-called ‘poverty porn’ style images if these are likely to raise more money? None of these is dilemmas has an easy or self-evident answer. This session will attempt to unravel the questions and arrive at some answers.

Learning outcomes

  • Better understand the nature of ethical dilemmas in fundraising
  • Use that knowledge to resolve ethical dilemmas, resulting in better decisions
  • Critically apply new thinking to develop better ethical policies for charities and/or the fundraising sector
  • Critically reflect on their professional accountability to stakeholders

Who should attend: Anyone, junior or senior, experienced or novice, who is thirsty for a more sophisticated understanding of fundraising’s professional ethics that they can use in their day-to-day jobs and in developing better sector policy.

Session style: a mix of presentation, breakout groups and interactive facilitated discussion


Heather McGinness (USA)
Vice President for Advancement Organisation, Concordia College New York