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Have Ethics in the Workplace Been Lost? (My experiences as a consultant)

“Ethics are behavioral standards that individuals, organizations, and societies apply and generally adhere to as acceptable. An individual’s ethical standards are normally defined and developed by family, religious beliefs, friends, and societal practices. These standards provide common operating practices that are used to define the limits of acceptable behavior. Generally, individuals know whether something is right or wrong.” S. L. Young

I have been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) for nearly 17 years. While I both personally and professionally don’t believe that I need to have a Code of Ethical Standards(1) from the association to be ethical, AFP does have a Code of Ethics that I always have followed in my work at non-profit organizations and as a consultant to non-profits.

Some AFP standards I’d like to highlight:


Members shall:

  • Never knowingly infringe the intellectual property rights of other parties.

  • Protect the confidentiality of all privileged information relating to the provider/client relationships.

In the past two years, four non-profit organizations contacted me and asked me to submit a proposal for work and then they disappeared. What do I think when this happens? They likely took the information I provided and used it for their own purposes. This led me to be much more cautious about submitting proposals to those who I do not know. I now include “Proprietary Information…Property of Bernhardt Consulting Co.” on every page of a proposal that I submit to an organization. Sad thing is that the representative of one organization who asked me for a proposal was at the time, a member of AFP.

Additional AFP standards I’d like to highlight:


Members shall:

  • Not accept compensation or enter into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions; nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees.

  • Not pay finder’s fees, commissions or percentage compensation based on contributions.

I have lost count of the number of calls that I received where an organization's representative asked me to perform work for their non-profit and be compensated on a percentage of funds raised. I cannot do this, I won’t do this and it’s unethical in the non-profit world.

What I have read about securing new clients is true. Most, if not all, come through referrals and longstanding relationships. My clients have all come about through referrals from current clients, former co-workers and relationships that I have developed, some whom I have known for more than 25 years.

For more information on the AFP Code of Ethical Standards, please click on this link to the document in its entirety: AFP Code of Ethical Standards

(1) © 1964, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

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