Ask the Ethicist: Internal Employee Campaigns and Research

By the Apra Ethics & Compliance Committee

Dear Ethicist,

At my organization we have an ongoing campaign that encourages staff to give back. We’re a pretty big place, with employees who earn a range of salaries, from administrative staff to superstar doctors and faculty. My boss has asked me to verify the capacity of several current faculty members. I’m not sure how I feel about researching my colleagues. What should I do?

Where to Draw the Line

Dear Where to Draw the Line,

Workplace giving campaigns are quite common and are important to establish and maintain a culture of philanthropy throughout a nonprofit organization. That being said, estimating giving capacities for your colleagues can feel a bit odd.

The primary ethical implication of researching internal employees is that you are bound by fundraising ethics (Donor Bill of Rights, Apra Ethics, etc.) and data that has added protection due to human resources rules and regulations. As such, The Ethicist recommends that you partner with your HR and legal departments. Regulations will vary by state, country and even organization structure.

The bottom line: you need to have a clean and transparent policy and procedure that is shared with staff. When constructing a policy, there are some rules of thumb that your organization could consider:

  • Who at your organization will be screened? Some considerations could include a certain title or salary threshold, current faculty versus emeriti, etc.
  • Is the data easily available? Public institutions’ salaries are generally available, and a major gift officer could have an idea of what to ask without coordinated prospect development activities regarding a colleagues’ giving capacity.
  • Who will have access to the screened data? Will all of development have access or only prospect development? This could lead to employees feeling pressured to give at their full capacity.
  • What is your organization’s engagement approach for internal colleagues? Is it as an employee who is a donor, or a donor who is an employee? What about affiliated employees who may not be directly employed by your organization, such as medical staff at a hospital?
  • Is there data that you may have on donors that HR would consider privileged data on employees, such as demographic data, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data, etc.? How is the information acquired? This sort of information is very sensitive and should be treated as such.

From vendor due diligence and enacting change, to privacy laws, the Apra Ethicist has weighed in. View previous Ask the Ethicist articles here

 The Ethicist strongly suggests keeping estimated capacity tasks reserved for major gift prospects. There is likely a difference in giving levels between star faculty and prospect development staff, so have this in mind when bringing your concerns to the table. Review your current prospect management and research policies with your boss/leadership and determine the best course of action, while discussing with internal partners (HR, legal, etc.). Also, you can advise how the confidentiality of such tasks could be problematic if utilizing a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that your organization’s staff has access to, if those staff members are the ones being researched.

One of the best ways to encourage employee philanthropy is to inspire trust by respecting employee data and ensuring that prospect development is using such data in the most transparent, ethical way possible.

The Ethicist

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