Unlocking Potential: Development Officer’s Portable Knowledge

Sections of this topic

    Not All of a Development Officer’s Knowledge is Portable

    The following is an excerpt from a listserve discussion regarding the ethics of donor confidentiality:

    I can’t imagine someone saying, while they’re being interviewed for a development position, “Well, I know Mr./Ms. Gotbucks, but I can’t make the initial contact with him/her if you hire me because I met him … a few years ago while I was on the development staff of a different nonprofit.” It would seem to me, that the ethical standard exists to keep people from stealing lists and intellectual property – not to keep a fundraiser from calling someone they happened to meet while working somewhere else.”

    Of course, the standard exists to keep people from stealing lists and intellectual property, but the major focus is the protection of the donor – and his/her right to privacy/confidentiality.

    The Code* was designed (over time, and with much revision) to protect NPOs, their constituents, and (primarily) their donors.

    If the (Gotbucks) reference is to an officer of a foundation or corporation, there is no conflict implied in your scenario. If it is an individual donor, you’d have to ask whether there was a relationship between that donor and the development person, outside of the donor/org relationship.

    If, in fact, the two people became friends, then there’s no prohibition in the code to prevent a friend from calling a friend. If, however, the contact was limited to “official” transactions, then the development officer can only take with him/her that which is common knowledge in the community. Ideally, the “relationship” is between the donor and the organization, not between the donor and the staff person.

    If it is known that the person has a passion for and likes to give to cultural institutions, then contact from another such NPO would not be inappropriate. But, if that information was not commonly known, and was known to the development officer only as a consequence of his/her former position, then that officer is obligated to “forget” that information.

    One of the purposes of the code is to protect the donor’s right to have information gathered by an NPO maintained as confidential. It is also to recognize that the NPO made an investment in the research/education/cultivation process and to protect that investment.

    If this were merely a philosophical discussion, the bottom line would be that the development officer couldn’t/shouldn’t do anything that would violate the rights of others — individuals or corporations.

    But, since it is a common question in fundraising, all of the “rules” were designed to protect NPOs, their constituencies, and their ability to serve their constituencies. They were not set up to protect development officers or other staff of the NPO.

    (*The AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards can be found at: http://www.afpnet.org/Ethics/EnforcementDetail.cfm?itemnumber=3261)

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