Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our Ethics Process

Over the past several months, we've heard horrible and reprehensible news about the treatment of charity employees and workers—for example, the UK President's Club scandal and the recent revelations at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

There is no question that we must have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of all types in our organizations. That means putting our principles and values into action and not turning a blind eye to these incidents. We have an obligation to see that everyone is treated fairly, beginning with a presumption of innocence, and that ultimately justice is done with appropriate consequences for those who have violated AFP's Code of Ethics.

It is critical that our process be fair and impartial. We cannot rush to judgment, no matter how seemingly clear the allegations may appear. Above all, we must respect the confidentiality and privacy of all involved.

The AFP Code of Ethics and the complementary enforcement procedures were designed to respond to situations when donors, organizations, our profession or our entire philanthropic system is hurt and/or jeopardized by the actions of an AFP member. Our ethics enforcement process was created to express our commitment to ethics while ensuring every member's right to a fair, impartial and confidential hearing and judgment process.

So, what exactly are AFP's enforcement policies and procedures when a member is accused of violating our Code of Ethics?

First, our enforcement procedures only apply to AFP members. While this might seem obvious, it is a question we are asked from time to time.

Second, anyone (AFP member or non-member) can file a complaint against a current member concerning possible violations of the AFP Code of Ethics. A complaint must be in writing, preferably on our "Complaint of Ethic’s Violation" form.

Third, once a complaint is filed, the President’s Office determines whether the complaint is viable and contains sufficient and reliable information. If the complaint is viable and actionable, the matter is referred to the AFP Ethics Committee. It is worth noting that, in accordance with the enforcement procedures, we defer any action on an ethics complaint if a legal proceeding has commenced or is pending with regards to the subject matter of a complaint. We may also refer matters to federal, provincial, state or local government agencies if appropriate.

Finally, it is critical to understand that this entire process is completely confidential, known only to myself, our General Counsel and members of the AFP Ethics Committee. We cannot (and will not) divulge to anyone outside of this group whether or not a complaint has been filed against a member, a member is currently under an ethics investigation, or the final outcome of an investigation. The only exception is in the case of permanent revocation of membership, in which case this is made public on our website and in our Advancing Philanthropy magazine.

It is important to note that the overriding goal of our enforcement procedures is to educate members, and alter behavior, not to punish. We sometimes find that the Code is breached inadvertently, and in many cases, the situation is remedied and addressed in good faith quickly with processes implemented to prevent future issues.

However, we have come across situations where the breach was egregious, or the individual refused to acknowledge or remedy the issue. At that point, the Ethics Committee will consider disciplinary action. There are four actions that the committee can take:
  1. Reprimand: a formal rebuke by the committee in writing addressed to the member.
  2. Censure: a more serious rebuke in writing that prohibits the participation in AFP-sanctioned activity for one year.
  3. Suspension: a suspension of AFP membership and prohibition of participation in AFP-sanctioned activity for a period determined by the committee.
  4. Revocation of Membership: the permanent revocation of membership and permanent prohibition of participation in AFP-sanctioned activity. Again, this sanction is made public. 
You can learn more about our ethics enforcement policy here, including how to file a complaint.

I hope I've made clear how and when AFP handles ethics complaints. As you see, this is a very thorough and rigorous process that we take extremely seriously and consider to be a critical aspect of protecting all involved in the philanthropic sector. Regardless if you are an AFP member or not, we encourage everyone to adopt this Code of Ethics as their basis for all daily interactions.

If you have any questions, I encourage you to contact me directly (mgeiger@afpnet.org) or Jason Lee, AFP’s General Counsel (jlee@afpnet.org).

Thank you for your dedication to an ethical fundraising profession.

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