With election season right around the corner, it’s essential to look at public officials’ ethical fundraising practices. Whether it’s sending out mass emails to potential donors to placing undue pressure on current donors, knowing where the sand line lies ethically helps public officials stay on the right side of campaign finance laws.
Here’s a look at ethical fundraising practices among public officials and how to reach the public the right way.
To practice ethical fundraising, public officials need to operate trustworthily fundraisers. To make sure they go about their work ethically, public officials should treat fundraisers with respect and invest in training before soliciting a single donation.
For instance, it helps to let fundraisers understand and articulate a public official’s mission and set guidelines for what fundraisers should disclose about the campaign. Fundraisers need to know that their solicitations and any materials they provide about a campaign must be honest. Public officials should also enforce a zero-tolerance policy in regards to intentional misrepresentation and misinformation.
After laying a groundwork of trust, it’s crucial to show a commitment to ethical fundraising by being transparent with a campaign’s finances and practices. Public officials should make it easy for visitors to find this information on the campaign website and share details about programs, outcomes, staffing, and how donations are spent. If not, it could be that those running for office are intentionally trying to mislead donors, highlighting campaign finance ethical issues.
Keep in mind that it’s not appropriate to compensate a fundraising professional or other staff member based on a portion of the money raised. Donors who contribute to a campaign expect to see that money used to further the campaign itself.
Similarly, it’s crucial not to misstate fundraising expenses. Underreporting fundraising expenses only provides unrealistic expectations about campaign overhead costs.
A code of ethics is a useful tool in guiding staff and volunteers to practice ethical fundraising methods.
For instance, the Ethics and Accountability Code from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) says that an organization’s “fundraising program should be maintained on a foundation of truthfulness and responsible stewardship.” Also, it means that fundraising policies and practices should be consistent with the mission of an organization, compatible with its capacity, and respectful of donors and potential donors’ interests.
While not every campaign is successful in the end, it can practice ethical fundraising practices to ensure transparency and avoid any legal or reputational pitfalls in the process.
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