A Conversation with Claudia Looney, FAHP, CFRE – Senior Consultant, CCS
Claudia Looney has spent over 50 years as a fundraiser and continues to leave a long legacy of incredible achievements, including raising more than $1 billion dollars for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In 2012 AFP awarded her the CCS Award for Outstanding Fundraising Professional. In furtherance of our AFP-GLAC’s Eye on Ethics program, Ethics Chair, Melanie Elliott had the privilege of speaking with Claudia about the importance of ethics in fundraising.
ME: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me today. To start things off, how long have you been a member of AFP?
CL: I have proudly been a member for 40 years.
ME: Aside from the outstanding fundraising you achieved at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where else have you made an impact?
CL: I have worked at the YWCA of North Orange County, Campfire, Inc., Saddleback Medical Center Foundation, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and the California Institute of the Arts. I have also had the privilege of working with many wonderful organizations as a CCS Fundraising consultant.
ME: I’m sure you’ve encountered a number of ethical issues over the years you’ve been fundraising. What was your first experience with that?
CL: I grew up in a family that expected ethical behavior from their children. I learned a set of values early on in church. We practiced those values at home. I had a clear sense of right and wrong. It’s part of who I am today. do not like injustice in any form.
In the 1980s I was leading the fundraising program at Saddleback Medical Center. A volunteer donor insisted that I accept her mink coat as a gift. I didn’t want to offend her, but ethically I couldn’t accept it. This became a teaching moment, for I had the opportunity to explain why I could not accept her gift. She was undeterred, however. So, I suggested that she donate the coat to the gift shop. They put a fair price on it, and I bought it. The donor was happy, but I didn't need a mink coat in southern California, so I ended up donating it back to the thrift shop, after wearing it once at an event where the donor would see that I was wearing it. She was happy. She became a long-time friend of the hospital.
ME: Sounds like it all worked out. Why is ethics so important for AFP and nonprofits?
CL: Fundraising is built on trust. As fundraisers we have a moral responsibility to see that the designated gift is used per the donor’s wishes. The donors trust that the nonprofit will use their contributions in the way that they requested it to be used. Your ethical practices and actions as a fundraiser will indeed encourage long-term support for your organization. Unintended consequences created by missteps can last years in the minds of donors. If we know ethical practices, we can avoid missteps.
ME: Have you been involved with any service regarding ethics and AFP?
CL: Around 2005, I was invited to serve on the International Ethics Committee for AFP. I was privileged to serve on the committee for 8 years. Some of our work involved reviewing and refining the Code of Ethical Standards. This is the document that we all sign when we become a member of AFP. The committee also looked at member violations of the Code and decided on appropriate actions to take. We also created new standards for online fundraising during my time on the committee. We validated our decision-making by reaching out to leadership from the private sector, including foundations, attorneys and other thought partners to help guide our decisions around controversial issues.
ME: In 2011 you started The Claudia A. Looney Fund for Ethics in Fundraising. Would you mind telling me about this?
CL: The fund is intended to help professionals understand the nuances and standards of ethical behavior through webinars, conferences, and educational training opportunities. Such educational offerings are helpful and provide directions and guidance with ethical incidences that will surely pop up throughout our careers. The Fund began in 2011 after I retired from Children’s Hospital. My son, Chris Looney, who was on the AFP Foundation board, wanted to honor me by creating the fund upon my retirement. He organized a group of friends and colleagues and encouraged them to donate to the Endowment Fund. It was created within a year with the $50,000 minimum amount needed to create an AFP fund. Today, the endowment has grown and is being used for the designated purpose. I am honored and humbled by this endowment fund named in my honor.
ME: What a nice way to help others when an ethical issue arises. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CL: I’d like to let people know what they can do if they come upon an ethical situation. If that happens, I refer to the AFP Code of Ethics that addresses most issues. If needed, I suggest having a conversation with a respected colleague to seek further assistance. I would also turn to the AFP International Headquarters as a resource to give direction and guidance. The most important thing to know is that you don’t have to go it alone to figure it out. There are resources and other professionals who can help.
ME: Claudia, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. You’re an inspiration!
CL: Thank you.
For more information about ethics, please click on the link here: Ethics