Fundraising from the Communities You Serve

Dear Kim:

The agency I work for provides social services to older adults (seniors age 60 years and older) and their families regarding issues in aging. One of the suggestions that I had made to our social services director was that families of clients should be asked to supporting the mission, programs and services of the agency financially. After all, these are the individuals who witness the wonders of these services in action and can provide true testimony to the benefit of the agency. However, as a response, I was accused of being unethical and told that we can’t look at families of clients as potential donors.

My question to you is do you think it is appropriate to ask families or caregivers of clients for financial support? I have seen many agencies with family members listed as contributors to the agency and they seem happy to thank and support the agency for the services provided to their loved one. From a development perspective (or any perspective for that matter) is this crossing professional ethics in any way?

Any insight, advice or resources would be immensely appreciated!

–Ethically Bound

Dear Bound:

You have unknowingly hit on one of my pet peeves, which is when social service providers accuse development people of being unethical because they want to ask the most logical prospects for money! I often think they are using this argument because they don’t feel comfortable asking for money themselves. The short answer to your question is, “No, you have not crossed any ethical boundary.”

An agency cannot ask its clients or friends and family of clients when they have said they won’t, or when there is a reasonable expectation of confidentiality. Otherwise, there is no reason to not ask, and, in fact, many mission driven reasons to ask. No one likes to always be on the receiving end of charity, and offering people a chance to express their gratitude and to ensure that the program is around to help other seniors is a gift to the people being asked. Obviously, as with all fundraising, there cannot be any element of coercion or any sense that givers get better treatment than non-givers. I would suggest a low-key series of requests, as follows:

1) A brochure or flier at the front desk of your agency which describes how you are funded and lets people know how they can help. Brochures or fliers can also be left on tables along with magazines in waiting areas or reception areas. Everyone is free to take them or leave them as they wish.

2) Your website also discusses how you are funded and invites people to help by making a gift on-line or sending in a donation.

3) A paragraph in every newsletter that tells about a particular need and its attendant cost.

4) Every staff person is trained in how to respond if people say, “Is there some way I can help?” or, “Is there any charge for this service?” Instead of just politely saying no, you should say, “the service is free, but donations are welcome and put right to work.” Or, “We can always use help with fundraising.” Staff can take their cue from the questioner as to whether to pursue it further. Reply envelopes should be nearby in case someone asks for one.

5) A letter inviting people to honor, celebrate or memorialize a loved one should go out once a year. Over time, many people start sending in money in lieu of birthday presents, holiday gifts and the like. Be sure to acknowledge the person who is being honored in this way, and that you don’t just look for memorial gifts.

This will be enough to get you started and once people send in money, you can then resolicit them. The fundraising you are doing with your clients and their friends and family is strictly invitational—“Would you like to help? If so, here’s how.” If a person doesn’t want to make a donation, it is easy to refuse.

Good luck to you.

–Kim Klein