Development Committee Membership: A Question of Ethics

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    An email raised this question:
    My organization is in the process of developing a Fundraising Committee.

    Three of our Board members are on this Committee and we are trying to determine other non-Board members who we could invite to join as well.

    We have one major gift donor who began to fund us at the recommendation of her [philanthropy] advisor. I would like to talk to this advisor, who I have become acquainted with through email exchanges, about possibly joining our development committee membership or perhaps recommending others who might join.

    Are there any conflicts of interest around this that would prohibit my reaching out to this advisor?

    The response:
    To avoid conflicts of interest, you should not consider asking the philanthropic advisor to be a member of the committee. S/he can’t advise you and, at the same time, advise her/his clients to give to you if s/he is on your committee.

    Also, ethically, the advisor can’t give you information about his/her clients without their permission to do so. If s/he would be willing to talk to those clients on your behalf (without being on your committee) that would be acceptable … as long as it was clear that the advisor was not, in any way, being compensated by you.

    The best recommendation that s/he could give his/her clients would be that some other client became a donor and was very pleased with how they were treated, how their support has made a difference, and how the donor’s needs have been satisfied.

    One question: Do you have a job description for the “Development Committee”?

    I say, “development,” because the main/major function of the committee should be to establish/identify, maintain, and enhance relationships that will result in gifts. It’s not a fundraising committee, it’s a “relationship” committee.

    In that context, you should not look to recruit people to the committee just because they have the financial ability to give significantly. The basic criterion for development committee membership should be the extent to which an individual can help you do the identifying, creating, maintain, and enhancing of relationships.

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