To be successful, organizations must first earn the community’s trust.
Aside from being representative of mainstream taste and providing the World’s Most Beautiful Drive, Peoria boasts an additional claim to fame: it’s known for being an incredibly philanthropic community. From corporate executives to young professionals to blue-collar workers and beyond, the majority of our citizens are more than willing to give of their time, talent and treasure to support the missions they value.
The fulfillment of these missions is critical for our neighbors and for the community at large. So much great work is being accomplished every day—not just in Chicago, not statewide, but right here in central Illinois. Children with cancer are receiving treatment. Individuals with developmental disabilities are learning independence and self-sufficiency in their work and living environments. Homeless veterans are being provided with food, shelter and employment training. Adolescents at risk of dropping out of school or engaging in criminal behavior are being mentored. And the list goes on. For every need, there is an agency working towards a solution.
Luckily for all of us, these nonprofits are not simply a passive presence in the community. The champions of these organizations—be it the staff, board of directors, volunteers or other community advocates—are actively becoming experts in their particular fields, seeking collaboration, spreading the word, and raising the funds necessary to get the job done.
At the center of all this activity—and between all the people working tirelessly to get the job done—is a critical concept: trust. In order to be a truly successful nonprofit, an organization must first earn the trust of its community. Clients must trust their nonprofit to have their best interest at heart, staff and board members must trust the mission of the organization, and volunteers and donors must trust the board and staff to employ their support effectively and ethically. Here in Peoria, we are fortunate to have many trustworthy organizations ready to answer the call for our neighbors in need.
The building blocks of trust between a nonprofit and their donors can be found in the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Code of Ethics and Donor Bill of Rights. These documents provide guidance to nonprofit organizations on how to raise and accept funds in a way that is consistent with the values of their mission and donors. As one of AFP’s 230 chapters worldwide, the Central Illinois Chapter encompasses a broad spectrum of professional experience and backgrounds, representing the areas of health, human services, education, religion and the arts.
Upholding Ethical Standards
All AFP members are expected to adhere to the Code of Ethics, which contains 25 standards addressing issues such as public trust, transparency, conflicts of interest, solicitation and stewardship of philanthropic funds, the treatment of confidential and proprietary information, and compensation. The Donor Bill of Rights states 10 rights of donors that nonprofit organizations are to honor in order to assure they are worthy of the donor’s trust, respect and philanthropic support.
Organizations can find themselves in hot water with their donors, communities and even on a national scale if they fail to implement donor-centered fundraising initiatives and uphold ethical standards such as those listed in AFP’s Code of Ethics. The Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting provide an annual list of the 50 Worst Charities in America, which are primarily national organizations who pay for-profit entities to solicit funds on their behalf. In these cases, the donor dollar is primarily covering the cost of the solicitation itself, with precious few cents on that dollar funding the actual cause. Other examples of common ethical missteps include the use of donations for purposes other than the donor’s intention, or an overall lack of transparency in providing information to constituents.
In these trying financial times for our country and especially for our state, nonprofits rely on community support. They must therefore embrace transparency and ethical fundraising practices, and continuously work to build and maintain the trust of their donors. Today’s donors are engaged and mission-driven. They seek impact with their gifts and expect (and deserve!) follow-up on how those gifts were spent.
We are no longer in an era when supporters write us checks with blind trust. The donors of 2015 have a much more hands-on approach to how they support their causes. Organizations who bring their donors in as active partners and subscribe to the highest ethical standards will continue to earn the trust of their community and make lasting change… here in Peoria and beyond. iBi
Jeff Scheirer is vice president of public relations for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Central Illinois Chapter, and development director for the Miller Park Zoological Society. He can be reached at [email protected] For more information on AFP, visit afpcentralillinois.org.