Fundraising: Think ethics - think values

Fundraising & Corporate Sponsorship: Think ethics - think values

Michelle Wright
Date Published: 01 November 2017
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by Michelle Wright, Founder and CEO of fundraising and development enterprise Cause4 and Programme Director of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme.

For the Trustees and leaders of arts organisations the responsibilities are ever increasing and can seem overwhelming. 

Of course, when things go wrong, the Government’s response is to regulate or legislate. That’s why we have rightly seen the creation of a new Fundraising Regulator to help protect the public’s trust in fundraising and to overcome the difficulties that we’ve seen in recent months in relation to poor fundraising practice and tactics.  

However, when we know that great art needs to both experiment and take risks to achieve excellence, how on earth can we balance the complexities of ensuring freedom of artistic expression with the increasing responsibilities to comply?

As we start to consider how to stimulate new fundraising and particularly corporate sponsorship for the arts in this increased regulatory climate, my attention has once again turned to the question of ethics.

Organisations with purpose

When we think about organisational purpose, we need to go back to first principles and to continually reassess our vision and mission. After all, it’s these statements that determine our core purpose. It’s a fundamental responsibility of Trustees to ascertain whether their organisation is fulfilling the needs and objectives that it was set up to address.

Of course, linked to the vision and mission are organisational values. In the most basic interpretation - values are what matter to us. They are what motivates our behavior and they ground our judgment about what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable.

As I think of the new fundraising regulations I increasingly believe that focusing on core organisational values can be helpful. If we want our arts organisations to be trusted and excellent, then surely it’s our values that help inform how we go about our fundraising in an ethical manner. 

Fundraising is ethical when it protects rather than damages public trust. It’s ethical when the relationship is two-way between donor and organisation. It’s ethical when it brings meaning or increases value of the art. In an ideal world, it is our values that should guide how we act, not the stick of regulation and compliance.

Fundraising needs to be defensible

Of course, this isn’t an easy thing to do. Getting an organisation comfortable with its own values is one of the hardest things that Trustees and Executive can achieve. But it is at the heart of effective funding relationships. 

Corporate sponsorship isn’t philanthropy; it’s a business exchange, and therefore Trustees of arts organisations need to decide whether taking on a sponsor will not only further an organisation’s artistic cause, but also whether the association can genuinely stand up against core values. Its position must be defensible.

But fundraising also needs to be pragmatic

Of course, there is no black or white in questions of ethics. However, a sense of solidarity with others can be helpful. For example, many arts organisations have signed up to the Fossil Fuel Free campaign, publicly pledging to not accept money from related companies. Undoubtedly this approach is right for some.

However, as a pragmatist and someone who supports organisations to raise funds and to develop resilient business models, I think that if we start to close doors and pick and choose too often, then we run the risk of making it too difficult for sponsors to enter into a relationship with the arts, and this could significantly hurt our cause.

Know what we stand for

As regulatory responsibilities increase for Trustees we simply can’t put ethical fundraising on the ‘too difficult’ pile. If we know what we stand for then we increase our fundraising potential, rather than being too scared to act.


Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy is about to embark on a series of training days in partnership with Index on Censorship and What Next? funded by Arts Council England to explore how the changes in regulation and the political climate affects the choices about the artistic work that we want to create or produce. Contact for further information.


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