Whenever the subject of ethics comes up, everyone scatters. It’s as if the topic is known to be important—somber even—but, like castor oil, is to be taken sparingly and quickly. And then you’re outta there.
This is why I’m convinced the only reason my students at NYU show up for my lectures on ethics, as the discipline relates to philanthropy, is that they are required to be there.
At other presentations on the topic, planned giving council meetings, for example, where the attendees voluntarily show up, they seem inclined to sit at the back of the room, dutifully taking notes but ensuring themselves minimal risk of actually engaging in what might be a conversation or debate.
Let’s face it: except for the serious thought that went into writing the ethics codes at the National Committee on Planned Giving and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the idea of ethics, as an active, engaging, and permeating part of what we do, falls well short of where it needs to be in our daily routine.
It’s as if our very signature under a statement indicating that we will abide by an ethics policy fulfills our obligation. But by simply signing on, we don’t engage. By not staying vested in the principles embodied in the policy, we don’t endorse.
Instead, we act as robots, intellectually apart from the real meat of ethics. And ethics in a vacuum aren’t really ethics at all.