The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported a study by the Ethics Resource Center on ethical standards and behavior in nonprofits.

Guess what?

Nonprofit ethics are pretty miserable … and apparently in decline. This based upon a survey within our own community.

Should we expect the public (specifically donors and would-be donors) to believe differently than nonprofit employees?

We’ve all become complacent with the assumption that as "do-gooders" we as a sector can somehow automatically lay claim to higher ethical reputation than say, mortgage banks.

But how many scandals at prestigious nonprofit institutions like the Smithsonian, United Way or the Red Cross (let alone all the local potboilers that pop up almost daily on my news feeds) do we think the public needs to witness before that presumptive advantage over other sectors and professions has vanished?

Well I think it has vanished. “Do-gooders” doesn’t translate in the public vernacular to “Be-gooders” anymore.

On the positive side, most consumers these days ascribe as much integrity to — and reward with as much loyalty — a company that is really green, or a fish market that consistently delivers the freshest fish, or any service provider who under-promises and over-delivers.

The integrity playing field has been leveled. No sector — as such — can generically claim an advantage.

And while equal opportunity corruption and malfeasance chips away at the sterling reputation of the nonprofit sector, so too does the intensifying focus on nonprofit performance.

It is inevitable that this focus puts a spotlight on both excellence and mediocrity. As donors become more aware that not all nonprofits are created equal … that they don’t all deliver on their promises … guess what? The overall standing of nonprofits as a sector diminishes.

If a bank, an airline, a cable provider or our toaster can let us down, why not a charity? It’s all the same. The most prominent nonprofit brands display warts for all to see, while the smaller nonprofits have no brand reputation (i.e., bankable goodwill) to begin with.

With multiple charities pursuing every conceivable goal, charities have become a commodity, and are increasing eyed and evaluated as such.

No wonder the hard data indicates a rather steep fall-off in donors (15%-20% in the past three years), particularly new donors.

More on what donors are thinking about nonprofits as The Agitator begins to report on its latest DonorTrends survey in the weeks ahead.


Thanks to DonorPower Blog for reminding me of ethics.

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