Ask the Ethicist: How Do We Prospect in Times of Crisis?

By the Apra Ethics & Compliance Committee

Dear Ethicist,

I hope this email finds you well. We are now living in a different world, with life and work revolving around COVID-19. Even though the economy is in flux, there is still a lot of important development work to be done, particularly for health and basic needs fundraising. On the other hand, thinking about prospecting during this crisis seems uncaring and opportunistic. How can we ethically prospect during these times of crisis?


From a Distance

Dear From a Distance,

To begin with, I want to emphasize everyone’s health and safety should be top priority.

Now, how do we prospect during a crisis? As you mentioned, there are still very important fundraising needs. This signals that our jobs are critical in difficult times and your gift officers will be looking for guidance. As researchers, we know that during economic downturns not every person or sector does poorly, and some even benefit from the circumstances. So, grab your coffee or tea and virtually huddle round your computers with your team to brainstorm a strategy.

The first step I would recommend is to make two lists: who is doing well and who is not. Think of companies, the people behind them, family foundations or donor advised funds, who are doing well.  Those doing well are in a good economic position and are excellent fundraising prospects. In the current coronavirus environment that includes, but is not limited to, pharmaceutical, medical device, technology and basic needs industries, as well as the entertainment sector (just to get your gears working).

As your team strategizes, remember to be wary of the “corporate vultures,” companies or individuals who are profiteering from the plight of others (e.g., a store charging $100 for a bottle of hand sanitizer), as doing business with them might not be a great PR move. If you stick to best due diligence practices and always have your organization’s mission in mind, you’ll be fine.

The other list, the prospects who aren’t doing well, may seem grim: why would we want to make a list of folks who are suffering? The reality is we want to be cognizant of our prospects’ and donors’ situations. It is important to know who we should not solicit during a pandemic or other crises, as that would be salt in the wound. That said, it is important to continue stewarding your donors, to maintain those relationships. Crises don’t last forever (thank goodness!) and how we work with our prospects now influences the future relationship and potential donations.

With these lists, you can now go forward in your regular work, as this can be the basis of how you frame your other prospecting and research work. Just remember to always check the news, as things change on a daily basis. Lastly, the Apra community is here for each other, so don’t hesitate to reach out to the Apra Exchange (aka PRSPCT-L), or email folks individually, as we are all in this together.

Virtually yours,

The Ethicist

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