Eye on Ethics July edition
A Conversation with Rebecca Powellin continuing AFP-GLAC’s Eye on Ethics program, periodically we’ll post conversations about ethics with various fundraising professionals. July’s chat is between Melanie Elliott, Ethics Chair and Rebecca Powell, Director Board Governance & Ethics from AFP’s International Headquarters.
ME: Hi Rebecca. Thank you for speaking with me today. There are a few questions I’d like to ask you regarding AFP and ethics. How long have you been the Director Board Governance & Ethics?
RK: I have been with AFP International Headquarters for 20 years and started as a Senior Director working for the President’s office.
ME: What peaked your interest?
RK: Previously, I worked at the Epilepsy Foundation and worked with their Board Governance and serving boards. In nonprofits, there is a lot of passion from board members. AFP has an enforceable Ethics Code and it is very interesting working with the membership to help them understand the 25 standards and why they want to abide by the Code.
ME: Can you tell me a little bit about your work and what you do as the Director?
RK: I am the staff liaison for the AFP Association and US Foundation boards of directors. I am also the staff liaison for the International ethics program and committee. All ethics inquiries come to me initially and are responded to by myself or Jason Lee, JD, AFP General Counsel. If there is a more complicated question regarding fundraising ethics, we will funnel the question through the Ethics Committee and get their thoughts.
ME: What does the Ethics Committee do?
RK: The Ethics Committee reports to the AFP board chair. The Committee promotes responsible and ethical behavior by its members and those holding AFP certification. The Committee designs a work plan every year and discusses cases and holds ethical hearings when needed. The Committee meets three times a year by phone. When meeting, they discuss how best to educate members about the Code and standards, how to handle ethical issues within the profession, and they write professional papers to inform the members. Currently, the Committee is working on a paper regarding donor advised funds. They are also working on international service outreach to non-members and CEOs so that they are aware of AFPs’ Code of Ethics.
ME: You mentioned the Committee hears complaints. On average, how many complaints are filed each year?
RK: On average, there are three complaints a year.
ME: How does the process work?
RK: Upon receipt of a complaint, there is an initial investigation to determine if the complaint contains sufficient and reliable information and is not patently frivolous or inconsequential so as to warrant initiation of steps to determine factual sufficiency for a hearing. Then the case is discussed with the Ethics Committee who decides if the case should go to a hearing. A hearing panel is assigned to review the case which is then followed by a hearing in front of the panel with members. At the hearing there is a hearing officer and Judge Advocate pro tempore and two hearing panelists. The enforcement process can sometimes take 1 to 2 years to close due to needing to work with all parties involved to collect all the information. Some hearings are held by phone and some face-to-face and legal counsel may attend the hearings.
ME: What are the penalties if an individual is found to be in violation?
RK: There are four possible sanctions: 1) Reprimand – a reprimand is formal rebuke by the Committee in writing addressed to the member. 2) Censure – censure is a more serious rebuke in writing, and carries a prohibition on holding any Association or chapter office, and sponsoring, exhibiting, advertising or otherwise participating in any AFP sanctioned activity at any level within the Association for one year.
3) Suspension – suspension excludes an individual or entity from membership in AFP for a stated period of time and/or under stated conditions and includes a prohibition on holding any Association or chapter office, and sponsoring, exhibiting, advertising, purchasing a mailing list, receiving AFP awards, or otherwise participating in any AFP sanctioned activity at any level within the Association, which includes forfeiting any payments made related to any AFP sanctioned activity, for the stated period. 4) Revocation of membership - revocation bars an individual or entity from membership in AFP, is permanent and includes a permanent prohibition on sponsoring, exhibiting, advertising or otherwise participating in any AFP sanctioned activity at any level within the Association. Revocation of membership automatically includes a recommendation to revoke certification or endorsement sponsored by AFP, if applicable.
ME: It must be a pretty serious violation for the membership to be revoked and lose certification.
RK: We list the expulsions on our website.
ME: What are the most common violations?
RK: There are two: 1) Misuse of donor funds and bequests where money is left to individuals at an organization who cultivated the relationship with the donor and end up in the donor’s will, and 2) misrepresenting themselves as a CFRE or ACFRE.
ME: I didn’t know that can happen.
RK: It does. As fundraisers, we can’t accept a bequest from a donor you have befriended through your job or use a credential they haven’t earned.
ME: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I have one last question for you, Why is ethics not a “hot” topic?
RK: Everyone wants to be ethical or think they’re ethical, but no one really wants to hear about it. It’s like being an airline flight attendant and giving the safety speech before the flight takes off. We all need to know flight safety, but no one really listens to the attendant while they’re talking.
FYI, there will be a free ethics webinar on September 18 again this year. As part of the AFP Ten Star Gold Award, the chapters are required to hold an ethics workshop or have some kind of programming on ethics education. All chapters and members are invited to join in and this will meet the criteria for a workshop.
ME: Thank you again, Rebecca.
RK: Thank you!
For more information on AFP’s ethics, please check out their website by clicking here.