The Nonprofit Ethicist | Is My Organization’s Executive Director Ethically Tone Deaf?

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Dear Nonprofit Ethicist,

I’ve been contracting with nonprofits for years as a writer and communications director. I presently find myself questioning the ethics of a director I’ve recently begun to work with. He is the executive director of a social services organization but he has a side business—a development company that raises money for organizations. Is it a conflict of interest for him to raise money for others through his business, since he is the chief fundraiser for the social service organization that employs him?


Dear Suspicious,

It looks bad all right. And when it comes to ethics, if it looks bad, it is bad. He is ethically tone deaf. However, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Code of Ethics is not explicit on this point—probably because it is a rare arrangement. In principle, he could manage all of these business relationships ethically, but it would be tricky. The more his clients’ interests overlap with those of his employer, the trickier it gets. At a minimum, he should disclose the identities of all of his clients to each of his clients (and his employer), but most self-employed persons are reluctant to publicize their client roster. The Ethicist would love to see his conflict-of-interest statement. He should focus all of his productive efforts on his day job.


Woods Bowman is a professor of public service management at DePaul University, in Chicago, Illinois.

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