A Donor Bill of Rights

Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good.

My entire professional career (five years in the field and two collegiate internships) has been shaped in the glorious arena of fundraising. From the start of my first internship, I was hooked. I adore working with donors, supporting missions, and strategically planning fundraising initiatives. My first boss recognized this—she was a great, dynamic mentor—and sent me to an AFP’s Fundamentals of Fundraising Course (Boston, October 2009), which provided me with a solid platform to build my practice. The first topic we discussed was the Donor Bill of Rights. Five years later I’ve a laminated copy next to my phone (with all other documents I like to keep on-hand and coffee-stained free). It has become a great reminder of the basics: donors come first.

This basic idea/fact/way-of-doing-business easily gets lost in the administrative stamped of nonprofit offices, where staff not only fill their one key position but wear the hats of many others at the same time. In actuality, some of my past and present fundraising colleagues had not even heard of the Donor Bill of Rights before I brought it up at a department meeting recently (which sparked the idea for this post). It is a vital document for fundraisers and nonprofit organizations. It defines philanthropy, informs standards for best practices, and sets the tone for donor stewardship. It does all of this on one page: astounding.

The Donor Bill of Rights

Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To ensure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the nonprofit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights:

I. To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

II. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.

IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.

VI. To be assured that information about their donation is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

VII. To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.

VIII. To be informed whether those seeking donations are volunteers, employees of the organization or hired solicitors.

IX. To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.

X. To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.