Let me tell you a story

Picture yourself in an auditorium with several hundred people. The only thing each one of you have in common is that you have disposable income. A man has just entered the stage in front, and as the lights dim, the chatter dies down. A spotlight focuses on the man on the stage.

Courtesy: TedXSydney

“Every six seconds, a child dies due to malnutrition,” he says,¬†“1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.”

He snaps his fingers. Immediately, he has your attention. His aim is to motivate you to donate to his non-profit that feeds children whose families cannot afford to feed them.

But how true is his claim? Can he prove it? Can you disprove it?

What half-truths do to your organization

This was the centre of a relatively heated discussion in one of my classes. The professor asserted that as long as no one can disprove the claim, the non-profit industry continues to use it. Once someone uses it, the rest of the non-profits have to follow suit. The likelihood that this statistic is true, however, is low. But since everyone is doing it, why can’t we?

Accepted does not equate to acceptable.

Why can’t we indulge in deception and half-truths? Because it is unethical, and ultimately, unsustainable for our organization. While it may bring in the dollars, if our donors find out that the statistic is false, we are likely to face backlash and perhaps even a loss of donors.

Accepted does not equate to acceptable. It is our responsibility as communicators to ensure transparency and authenticity in all communications. If we engage in half-truths, we put our organization’s survival in jeopardy, simply because people do not like being deceived. Half-truths are cancers that kill trust.

What can I do right now?

Bruce Lee used to say that if we put limits on what we can do, physical or anything else, it will spread over into the rest of our life. “It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being,” he said.

While mediocrity is contagious, so is meritocracy. What can we do right this minute to become meritocrats? Reflect. We can reflect on why we do things the way we do them. We can reflect on what our industry accepts and ask if this is in line with our ideals and values. If they aren’t we need to change them. Whatever our industry, we need to engage it in dialogue.

Half-truths are cancers that kill trust.

What can I do to engage my industry?

We can do two things, specifically.

Courtesy: AFP

We  can start by engaging our organization with its value statements. Is mediocrity one of our organiz
While mediocrity is contagious, so is meritocracy.ation’s values? I’m convinced it isn’t. So we change what we do. We tell the truth, we embrace transparency, and consequently, we ensure sustainability.

The second thing we can do is engage other organizations by making this a topic of discussion within our professional associations, such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

If we begin by doing these two things, we are sure to gain the respect and trust of our stakeholders. What else would you do, and why?

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2 thoughts on “Half-Truths in the Non-Profit Sector

  • Leah Eustace

    Hi Tabish,

    You raise some very important points (thank you!).

    Any fundraiser who is a member of AFP will have signed the Code of Ethics, which explicitly states:

    “AFP members both individual and business aspire to practice their profession with integrity, honesty, truthfulness and adherence to the absolute obligation to safeguard the public trust”

    It behooves us, as members who hold ourselves to these ethical standards, to educate others in this area. Simply giving lip service to ethics isn’t enough.


    • Tabish Bhimani

      Hi, Leah.

      Thanks for your comments. I knew you’d have some great insights for me. ūüôā


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