Nonprofits dodge ethics check-up

By Todd Cohen

For three years, Naomi Levine of the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University has urged New York lawmakers to pass a law requiring professional fundraisers to take at least one course in fundraising law and ethics.

On June 21, it looked as if her idea finally was going to become law.

But big charities like the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York fought the measure, arguing it would create costs and red tape.

The big charities won, but the charitable marketplace lost.

With growing incidents of bad management, board negligence, excess salaries, fraudulent telemarketing and even criminal behavior among nonprofits, Levine says, requiring fundraisers to be more sensitive to ethics and more knowledgeable about nonprofit law should be a no-brainer.

Ethics, says consultant Doug White, is a way to ask questions about how to act and behave.

Instead of pious talk about how ethical they are, nonprofits must show donors, government, the public and the media that they continually explore the ethical implications of their work.

In civic society, and under relentless pressure to raise money, nonprofits must be models of ethical practice.

Donors should demand it.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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