What Does “Acceptable Charity Fundraising Copy” Mean?

In a recent BBB article it was announced that the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, which is the Better Business Bureau’s charity watchdog arm, will begin a new initiative to verify the truthfulness of charitable appeals.

The article quotes H. Art Taylor the President & CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance – Taylor says: “We are concerned about the extent to which charities are not providing sufficient oversight over paid fundraising firms, these firms sometimes employ more aggressive and potentially misleading tactics to increase donor response”.

He added, The BBB Wise Giving Alliance believes that “drawing a line in the sand” for what is acceptable, and cleaning up the tactics that charities use to raise funds, is vital to the health of the charitable sector.

Taylor cited the following examples of problem appeals:

  • Exaggerating financial need
  • Sending appeals that look like invoices
  • Omissions of material facts about the charity’s major programs
  • Inaccurate financial ratio references

Although I agree that there are often challenges around all four of these examples, most notably exaggerating financial need or providing inaccurate financial ratios, yet they remain somewhat subjective in nature… but the other two are unquestionably very subjective – appeals that “look like invoices” and “omitting facts about major programs”.

Who is going to be the arbiter of these two?

Additionally, the language used by Mr. Taylor is a condemnation of what isn’t right in the nonprofit sector versus affirming all that is going well. With phrases like “draw a line in the sand” and “cleaning up the tactics” I can’t imagine he will receive much collaboration from the nonprofit sector.

In my work with charities of all sizes around the U.S. and Canada I have not come across one charity or one staff member at any of these organizations that endorses or attempts to present the charity in anything but a truthful manner. If anything, it’s the exact opposite.

Most charities are constantly minding the store and ensuring they are honest with their supporters with every communication – and in many cases being overly resistant to effective fundraising techniques because they don;t want to step over a line and be too aggressive. There is nothing more sacred to them. They realize that the reputation of the charity, and even them personally, is at stake. They won’t jeopardize this – nor will the board of the directors.

For myself, as a fundraiser and nonprofit consultant, I wouldn’t want to work with a charity that doesn’t embrace high standards of accuracy, honesty and integrity.

As they say, cream does rise to the top – and charities, and their consultants or fundraisers, are no different; we all want to present our organizations in a positive light – at least the vast majority of us do.

I am concerned about an entity, like the BBB, determining what is acceptable and what isn’t.

What do you think? Should the BBB police the strategic and tactical methods used by charities and their business partners?