Editor’s Note: Douglas Shaw was kind enough to share with us some excerpts from his highly personable and practical new book, The Rules of Fundraising. We’ll be running ten of Doug’s 35 rules here on Fieldnotes in the coming weeks—you can read the introduction and rules onetwo, six, and eight—and we encourage you to purchase the book on Amazon to read the rest.

Rule #9: You don’t have to lie to raise money.

This may seem like an unnecessary rule in Christian work—I only wish it were! The vast majority of ministries are very worthy and upright in their fundraising practices. Unfortunately, there are some serious scams out there!

You and I both know that it’s important to protect your organization from all ethical breaches and scandal in general. Ultimately, this task falls to your board of trustees; however, any hint of unethical or scandalous activity can create a fundraising maelstrom from which it may take years to recover. Those organizations who have “slipped” in the public’s eye can tell you the bitter truth of this statement.

Lying in fundraising can certainly be unintentional or “unconscious.” Here are a few of the lies we often hear. Sometimes organizations:

  1. Overstate the impact of their organization.
  2. Tell their donors that they can’t do their work without them (this belies the fact that God is our provider through them).
  3. Create an emergency in order to raise more money.
  4. Promise something to their donors and then don’t deliver it.
  5. Distort the facts of an appeal or a proposal.
  6. Raise designated money and spend it somewhere else without telling the donor.
  7. Use photographs and/or stories that are not from their organization without telling the donor.
  8. Approach donors with a matching gift follow-up request when the match has already been met,
  9. Inflate the magnitude of their need or opportunity (e.g., we’re going to end hunger in our world).
  10. Try to trick the donor into opening an e-mail or envelope with something that is misleading.

Donors are intelligent people; I’ve found they will understand our circumstances if we’ll just take the time to explain our situation in simple, honest terms. I’ve made phone calls to major donors and explained that we have just completed funding the project they have just now given to. In every case, I asked them if they would like their gift returned or if we could re-designate it. None of them has ever asked for their gift to be returned! They loved having the option to direct their giving, but once they had released the funds into our care, they were happy to have us use it where it was most needed. Most donors are just looking for the simple truth.

My own philosophy of the ethics of fundraising is quite simple: If I find myself trying to justify something or if I find myself looking for a way to “spin” something, then I’m treading on thin ice. I have never regretted doing the right thing.


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