The most frequent ethical issue I've come across throughout my grants development career is compensation. Organizations, board members, and even nonprofit staff with limited experience in the grants field will often ask if it is acceptable for grant writers to be paid based on a percentage of grant funds awarded, other type of commission based on win rate, bonuses based on successful grant proposals, or finder's fees for grant awards. To be crystal clear: NONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES ARE ETHICAL! Warning bells go off in my head anytime a prospective client, board member, or nonprofit professional ask me these questions.
The ethical standards of the Grant Professionals Association and those of the Association of Fundraising Professionals specifically state that compensation for professional fundraising services, including grant writing, shall be based on salary or fee-for-service (i.e. hourly rate, retainer, per-project fee, etc.). Performance-based compensation such as bonuses in addition to salary or fee-based compensation is acceptable only as long as it is a standard practice within an organization and it bears no relationship to the amount of funds raised.
Other ethical issues that often arise in the grants world include:
- Confidentiality-grant fundraisers deal with sensitive and proprietary information all the time, and must treat it as privileged information.
- Plagiarism-professional work must be original and sourced appropriately.
- Use of Funds-grant monies must be used in accordance with the grant's intent. Expenditures must be aligned to the budget documents and narratives supplied to the funder in applications, and organizations must adhere to funder regulations regarding modifications to budgets.
- Conflict of Interest-grant professionals must disclose relationships that constitute or could potentially constitute a conflict of interest with the organizations they work on behalf of, as well as funders.
- Relationships with Funders-as with any fundraising activity, grants fundraising is largely driven by relationships (see my posts on that here and here!) and it is critical that grant fundraisers do not misuse these relationships to benefit themselves or the organizations on behalf of which they work.
Further reading, for those interested in the topic of ethics in the grant profession, can be found at the following links:
Happy Ethical Grant Writing!