Skip to Navigation

How to Be an Ethical Donor

Bookmark and Share


With tax season complete, many Americans will soon have a little extra money burning holes in their pockets. Do you already have a plan for what to do with your tax return, or you are still fantasizing about all the ways to spend the extra cash? Is it possible you may be feeling charitable with your tax return? If so, it is important to adopt ethical donor practices while donating to a nonprofit organization in the upcoming weeks, or throughout the year.

Being an ethical donor means you are aware of where your money is going. This requires more than just knowing your gift is going to “help kids” or “save the environment.” Here are some tips to ensure you maintain high standards of ethics and integrity with your charitable gifts.

Know the Organization’s Values
Knowing the mission of a charitable organization is great, but, it’s also important to understand what values a nonprofit adheres to. These may include fairness, loyalty, trust, integrity or any number of things. Check the charity’s website or promotional materials to see if they list their values. If they don’t, call and ask what they are. Once you have an idea of what an organization values, you can be sure your values align, making your gift one you can be confident in.

Look for a Fundraising Code of Ethics
Fundraising membership organizations, such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals, encourage and sometimes even require individual and organizational members to sign various ethics codes. These include the Donor Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethical Standards. The purpose of these guidelines and standards are to maintain the public trust in the nonprofit sector. Ask the charity you are giving to if they have signed or adhere to a fundraising code of ethics. This is a good indication the organization will be a good steward of your gift.

Know the Other Funders
Understanding where a nonprofit organization’s funding comes from is a key component of ethical giving. Research the funding sources of the charity and you’ll learn a few things. First, if this information is easily available, it lets you know that the organization values transparency in their fundraising. Second, it is important your values align with those of the other donors. If, for instance, the organization receives a large amount of money from alcohol companies and a close family member of yours is a recovering alcoholic, your values may not align. As a donor, you will be linked to other donors of an organization, so it is key to do your research.

Sydney Shearer
Development & Student Programs Specialist, NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT)

Tags: , ,