Legacy expert and consultant, Sanita Guddu, is back with an important topic in legacy marketing that often gets overlooked. This topic was first introduced at the Legacy Futures Virtual Fundraising Conference in February 2023. And we’re delighted that Sanita has shared the content in this blog for you.
In this blog, we’re going to explore when you may not choose to market legacies or accept legacy gifts for ethical reasons. And also what the possible consequences are if you don’t have such an ethical policy in place.
Why are ethics important?
Ethical fundraising applies to every charity because every charity could be faced with some ethical dilemma. For example, what if a family member contests a Will where your charity is the beneficiary? Or is it appropriate to talk about legacies when a virus outbreak and deaths are on the rise?
What do we mean by ethics?
Essentially our ethics outlines our rights and responsibilities. It constructs the language we use to discuss and evaluate what is right and wrong. And it assists us with making moral decisions, helping us to differentiate between what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’.
But – and this is an important point – ethics doesn’t give us the right answer to any particular ethical dilemma. An ethical dilemma is where two rights are in conflict (whether to ask for a legacy gift versus how it would be perceived given the scenario), or you have a choice of options, all of which seem wrong, but you have to choose one of them. Therefore, an ethical dilemma is not a choice between right and wrong; it’s simply a choice based on the information you have.
What are some of the ethical dilemmas legacy fundraisers face?
- Frequency of legacy marketing – I think as legacy fundraisers, we are often faced with this regularly to some degree, i.e. is marketing legacies to a certain audience twice a year too much? But your charity would like to receive more legacy gifts.
- When to market legacies – if there is a global crisis, like a pandemic – is it insensitive to talk about legacies?
- Using emotion as a driver – should we be making donors feel guilty into giving? Because we could argue that as a fundraiser, your role is about doing whatever is necessary to raise money, and if that works, why not use that tactic? Because we widely accept that guilty gifts don’t stick and there is something greater at stake – the reputation of your charity, the wider sector and of course, yours as a fundraiser!
- Contested Wills – we’ve seen this in the past and it’s not going to go away. If a Will is contested, your Charity could lose the legacy that the donor intended for your cause whilst creating conflict with their family or loved one. You need to be prepared for this when it happens.
- Who to market and accept gifts from – for example, are there certain people from whom it wouldn’t be appropriate to solicit a legacy, i.e. if you’re an environmental charity and your supporter has made their wealth through fossil fuel production?
How do you begin to go about tackling ethical dilemmas?
The key is not to wait until they occur but think about it in advance and develop an ethical policy. Take some time from your day job and think about how you are dealing with ethical dilemmas.
This is where Ian MacQuillin’s and Dr. Claire Routley’s research into the three lenses from which you can develop your ethical policy is hugely valuable. The link to the research can be found here.
What’s your overarching approach to ethics falls under one of the following;
Protect the charity – therefore public trust – fundraising is ethical when it promotes, sustains, protects, or maintains public trust in fundraising practices and the fundraising profession. And unethical when it damages it.
Be donor-centered – fundraising is ethical when it gives priority to your donor’s wants, needs, desires, and wishes.
Getting the balance of fundraiser ask and donor needs right – as a legacy fundraiser, you’re simply doing your job when asking for a legacy. Like all other types of fundraising, does the donor have the opportunity to decline without feeling uncomfortable?
It’s important to address the following two questions, which will help you determine your preferred approach.
- Where are the lines in who you approach? Who are we asking for gifts (in wills), and from who are we accepting gifts?
- Where are the lines in how you approach people and ask for gifts?
By looking at potential ethical dilemmas with this two-step approach, you can answer most of the ethical dilemmas you probably come across.
In what ethical scenarios would you want to consider whether it is acceptable to accept legacy gifts?
From the donor centrist perspective, it may seem that refusing a gift is inherently wrong, as this is likely to upset the donor who has offered it.
However, there may be situations in which accepting a gift from one donor could cause upset to others; for example, accepting a single large donation from a donor that is perceived to be unethical might cause upset to many other supporters.
If you want to apply the donor centrist lens to accepting a potentially ethically challenging donation, you must consider whether you plan to share the news of the donation with other supporters. If so, how are donors likely to feel about that gift?
In summary, what’s apparent is that there are no clear definitions around what is ethical or not within the fundraising landscape, therefore, you need to find the right balance for your charity.
Explore with your wider team – what do we do now? Is this representative of one of the pillars of ethics that we highlighted – public trust/donor centred/charity and donor balanced? To be donor-led, consider running your ideas past some supporters or use it as an opportunity to engage with supporters and run a focus group. When you have your ethical policy in place, make it public and be transparent.
Photo by Victor Miyata