Eye on Ethics, August 2019 Newsletter

Board Members with Bad Behavior


I was excited be part of this amazing business trip to Puerto Vallarta for a huge golf and fishing tournament. This was a trip in which every benefitting organization invited donors, prospective donors, board members and staff.  Many of our board members were men and some of their wives accompanied them on the wonderful escape. This trip was going to fun and exciting, golf, music, concerts, food and limitless alcohol. I’ve never been a huge drinker. I’m more a 1-2 social drinker every now and then, and there were a lot of opportunities for drinking on this trip.

We arrived at a beautiful resort on a warm sunny day in June. Mariachis and margaritas greeted us upon arrival.  Everyone wore summer clothes forgoing the usual suit and tie since the weather was wonderful and the location amazing. After checking in and unpacking our bags we all made our way to one of the refreshing pools on site.

That evening, we enjoyed dinner on the beach while listening to a band in between the live auction event. The cocktails were limitless. Everyone enjoyed drinking way too many, especially our board members. One of our board members who was drinking excessively, had to be escorted to his hotel room. It took this board member back to his hotel room and another board member offered to help me. On our walk back to dinner, the board member who had just helped me, took that moment to express his feelings for me and described what he wanted to do to me.

My mind raced as to how to respond. I was extremely uncomfortable. What this board member did was wrong and inappropriate in speaking to me that way. As uncomfortable as I was, my response to him was to laugh it off and proceed to walk back to the beach. Throughout the night, this board member continued to make lewd comments and advances towards me. It was an unpleasant evening for me as I tried to dodge the comments and walk away each time he approached me. I needed to tread lightly because this man was still a board member and I didn’t want to offend, but I also wanted to engage with him as little as possible. Now, if I had been out with friends and a man approached me acting the same way, I would have handled it very differently. The night ended, and I hoped for a better tomorrow. I didn’t want my trip ruined. I told one of my male co-workers what had happened, and he tried to hang around me throughout the rest of the trip to “protect” me.

The next day though was quite enjoyable, for at least part of the day. I spent most of it by the pool since most of the guests were on the golf course. Late in the afternoon as everyone was returning, one of our other board members noticed me standing by bar. He approached me at the bar with his wife standing only a few feet away from us and proceeded to make advances toward me. I was shocked that he was hitting on me with his wife standing only a few feet away. I kept repeating “your wife is right there. Your wife is literally right there.” It was as though he didn’t care, as though he didn’t mind getting caught saying these things. I was so disheartened by all that had transpired the last couple of days. I felt as though there was a target on my forehead, like who was going to hit the target? Was there a bet? Were they all talking about me? I felt dirty and violated. For the rest of the trip, I tried to show up and put on a good face even though I was thoroughly uncomfortable.

We all made our way back home from the trip. The trip had ended, but unfortunately, the comments did not. From that time on, when I attended events, the same co-worker who protected me while we were in Puerto Vallarta would stay close by. Even now when he and I talk about what happened, he always says, “Wow, you could have filed a lawsuit.” Perhaps I could have, but it’s a complicated situation when board members cross the line. The one thing I should have done while I was at that job was have required the executive team to implement a policy in our board guidelines.

In 2018, AFP did a survey partnering with the AFP Foundation and Chronicle of Philanthropy on sexual harassment in the workplace. For more information about the survey, please click on the link:

If you are experiencing sexual harassment at your place of work, check and see if your employer has an anti-harassment policy and follow the steps for reporting the harassment. If your employer does not have a policy in place, talk with your supervisor. Further information may be found with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Please let us know if you have an ethical dilemma you’d like to share. Email Melanie Elliott, Ethics Chair at the following: 1) The ethical dilemma or situation; 2) How you solved it; and 3) If you would like to remain anonymous. Thank you!

Eye on Ethics, July 2019 Newsletter

Hands-On Donor

I was 23 years old at the time enjoying our Alumni Reception event. There I met Mr. Wall Street, an older man, married, father of three, and a much-valued donor of the educational institution where I worked. I was young new in the Development field. I was excited to be part of this amazing department and eager to learn all I could.

At the event, various alumni were speaking about their careers and their involvement with the educational institution. After I was introduced to Mr. Wall Street, we initially had some small talk. Throughout the evening, he kept approaching me and engaging me in more conversation, trying to get to know me better.  We exchanged business cards. I noticed he was overly friendly but did not really think this would lead to anything because he was a married man. Again, I was 23 years old and naïve.

The following Monday, I received an email from Mr. Wall Street indicating he would love to get together. I was a bit unsure if he meant to discuss the educational institution, the possibility of a gift, or something else. As his phone calls and emails continued, I realized he wanted more than just conversation. At one point, he offered to fly me to where he lived, pick me up in a limo and take me shopping at an expensive jewelry store. I thanked him for his offer but declined. That led to another email of him wanting to fly to where I lived and take me out for an evening and stay the night in an expensive hotel.

At this point, I didn’t know what to do. I was scared to tell anyone, as I did not want to seem unprofessional.  The calls and emails continued and that’s when I felt I had to tell someone. I went and spoke to my manager and showed her the emails he had sent me. She was appreciative that I informed her about the situation. I also expressed my apprehension about her sharing this information with anyone else. She decided that she would contact Mr. Wall Street herself and handle the situation.

She did and he apologized to her for his inappropriateness, although he never apologized to me. From there on, any alumni events he was attending, I was no longer allowed to attend. My manager felt this was a way to protect me from his advances and still maintain his donor relationship with the educational institution. I’m not sure how I felt about it. I guess because he was a donor, we had to make him comfortable, even if that meant me feeling uncomfortable about being left out.

Eye on Ethics, May 2019 Newsletter

Hidden Money Found

The following is a story from one of our AFP-GLAC members:

After spending 18 years as a Realtor, my mother had health issues in a different state, and I needed to go spend the summer with her. I had been elected by my sisters to convince her that she needed to let go of her property/home and move to another city to live with my oldest sister. This was not to be an easy assignment as she had no intention of doing the sisters' bidding.

After the summer came to an end, I realized this task was not going to be accomplished quickly. I had developed a nice relationship with her coffee pals who suggested that I stay and follow up on a local Catholic High School’s bid to find a new Development Director. I had no experience in development or fundraising, but had many years in high end sales which included networking, relationship building, negotiating, and working with both sides of the transaction in order to bring it to a tidy close; leaving all parties happy, friendly, ready for repeat business and future referrals.

After a nice interview with the Principal, I came away with the job. Interestingly enough, they were ready for a capital campaign, needing to raise $6 million for all sorts of things. The timing of my employment came just on the heels of a rather large drop in the market and the school’s investments had taken a serious hit. So, as the new kid on the block, I discovered who the two founding families were and asked each for a six-figure donation to be made over 3 years, to help us build a bridge and turn things around. One said yes right away, the other had some issues with the school that needed attention. He ranted, I listened, and I became a liaison between him and the foundation board. It worked beautifully and all his concerns were being addressed. Then, he asked the board to do a business plan, in light of their discussion of a capital campaign. Mr. Donor wanted to see the plan for school survival in a changing world. The board agreed. This is where the story gets complicated…

To find out what happened, click here for the rest of the story.

I had developed a friendship with an alumnus from the school who had worked many decades for one of our intelligence agencies before retiring. She offered to help me do the financials in the business plan and asked to speak with the secretary at the school. So, I set up this meeting which took less than 10 minutes. Most of their conversation went right over my head and I had no idea that my friend had had concerns about the financials for a long time and this was her chance to discover even a bit of what she had only a hunch about before. As we walked to our cars, she stopped and told me what she had found in her short Q&A -  there was $1.2 million being held at the headquarters of the Archdiocese. She did not elaborate but asked me to meet with both the President of the school board and the President of the Foundation to see if either of them knew about the $1.2 million. I knew something was up so took each one on a walk off campus to ask the question…each answered the same, “what $1.2 million?”.

I will not go into the rest of the story, but please use your imagination. I had to handle the disclosure process of the two big donors who had recently committed to the six figure gifts and then had to help the two Presidents understand the importance of transparency, etc. After discovery unfolded, the Principal was in hot water, tried to get me fired and had to leave himself.

The good news was after 3 very successful years on the campaign trail, Mr. Donor pledged $1.2 million and we had made nearly all of our goal. But they eliminated my position and so I came back home and started again, only to discover that people do bad things in a lot of places you would never expect.

And it took the full 3 years to get mom moved up with my sister - she’s still doing great!

Note: In order to maintain confidentiality, some of the details of this story are not included.

For more information about AFP’s ethical standard and principles, please take a look at AFP Global’s website at Information included on the website is our “Code of Ethical Standards” and “Donor Bill of Rights,” a section on Enforcement & Sanctions, Ethics Complaint Forms should you need them, and much more!

If you have an ethical dilemma/story to tell, we’d love to hear about it. Please email Melanie Elliott, AFP-GLAC’s Board Member and Ethics Chair at Please include your story, how it was solved and whether we have permission to use your name. Thank you!

Eye on Ethics, March 2019 Newsletter

The Perfect Candidate?

Michael Driebe, AFP-GLAC Board Treasurer and President of Methodist Hospital Foundation recently shared with me a story about reaching out to AFP Global when he was interviewing candidates for a position at Methodist Hospital Foundation. The following is his story:

“As a long-standing member of AFP through the Greater Los Angeles Chapter, the international organization has always felt somewhat distant and less significant to me than the local one.  That perception changed recently over an issue of ethics.  

We are currently seeking a major gift officer and through a recruiter found a candidate who appeared to be the perfect fit.  His resume and interviews highlighted longevity, a track record of remarkable performance, expertise in everything from special events to planned gifts, as well as, outstanding leadership experience.  

A subsequent on-line search, however, turned up a bit of disturbing information.  His name appeared as having been sanctioned by AFP. I clicked on the link, but since it was no longer active I called the office in Alexandria, Virginia.  I reached a staff member who confirmed that someone with the same name as my candidate was sanctioned for violating one of AFP's twenty-five ethical principles and was "banned for life from membership" in the organization.  She went on to explain that the record was sealed and that she could not discuss the particulars of the case.”

“I then asked the recruiter to reach out to the candidate who emphatically stated he was ‘not aware of any such sanction.’  Thinking this might be a case of mistaken identity, AFP was contacted again, and using the candidate's employment history we found it was indeed the same person. Incidentally, we learned the candidate was well aware of the sanction as it was reported he fought it vigorously. The particulars of his sanction, including the case he made in his defense remain confidential, but because he chose not to reveal the incident and denied it ever took place, I realized I no longer had the ‘perfect candidate.’   

As you can imagine, my perception about the value of AFP has certainly changed. While I had not seen it in action as frequently as I did the Greater Los Angeles Chapter, I came to find it was just as relevant and important. I am now even more grateful for the ethical principles AFP promotes and upholds, and hope the story I've shared has helped you better appreciate our international organization, as well.”

For more information about AFP’s ethical standard and principles, please take a look at AFP Global’s website at Information included on the website is our “Code of Ethical Standards” and “Donor Bill of Rights,” a section on Enforcement & Sanctions, Ethics Complaint Forms should you need them, and much more!

Eye on Ethics, June 2018 Newsletter

The Mystery Box

As part of AFP-GLAC’s Eye on Ethics, we present ethical dilemmas from our members and share the solution. Here is a scenario that presented a serious, ethical issue:

“I was working for what I thought was a well-respected nonprofit as their Director of Development. I was trained to tell all individual and foundation donors and prospective donors about our proudest achievement, which was a multi-million dollar, multi-year grant we had won from the Department of Labor. It was an extremely competitive grant, and I believe my organization was either the only recipient or one of a very small number of recipients across the nation.

I sang the praises of our achievements with this amazing grant until one day, when I unexpectedly came upon a box of old dusty files in our director's office. At first, I was excited because I could see the box held our original grant request and all the correspondence between us and Department of Labor about the grant. I had always wanted to learn more about this grant.”

“What I learned for the first time as I read through the files was that the heart of the funded project included plans to open a large thrift shop that would be staffed by domestic violence victims and homeless and runaway youth who needed to learn work skills. Not only had this never come to fruition, but I later learned from co-workers that the organization accepted thrift store donations for years, rented a huge storage space to keep the items, and eventually began dumping the donations meant for its store at unrelated stores such as the local Goodwill in the dead of night.

The organization did let the Department of Labor know they didn't open a thrift store, but they saw no problem with publicizing far and wide their achievement in winning the grant. We were all trained to talk about a small side project the grant also covered that was completed. Meanwhile, the core of the initial proposal was never mentioned to anyone. I was shocked, had further ethical and other issues with them, and did not stay at the organization very long.”