Professional Standards, Sacred Trust

The results of this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) saw the largest decline in trust of all institutions.
That’s right, nonprofits saw a greater decline in trust than the media, businesses, and governments, which begs the question: how do we restore the public trust? 
I would like to suggest that professional development is one of the keys to restoring the trust of donors who faithfully support our causes.
A common objection regarding professional development is that additional training simply isn’t necessary, that fundraisers need only be able to talk about the mission.  Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification of the development process; this can also be an ethically and legally problematic stance, given the continually evolving philanthropic sector. 
As the available methods for charitable giving grow and change, so do the guidelines and regulations.  Lack of knowledge regarding these important details is irresponsible — for the fundraiser, the organization, and donor relationships. 

In the preamble of the Donor Bill of Rights, it states that:
“To assure 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:”

The Bill of Rights that we all agree to follow most definitely implies that we value relationships and seek to serve needs of both our donors and our missions in our development work. 
Article VII of the Donor Bill of Rights also states, “To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.”
How do we demonstrate the value we place on relationships with our stakeholders and our dedication to service? 
We can look to CFRE International for guidance.
In addition to professional practice and performance, continuing education is a required component to obtain and maintain CFRE status.  In describing the continuing education requirement in its application process, CFRE International writes:

“The goal of the certification process is to assure as much as possible the continuing competence of each Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and maintain the professional standard of those engaged in fundraising practice. Continuing education courses provide one of the main methods for keeping up with professional practice.
The purposes of the continuing education requirements established by the CFRE International are that CFREs continue to:
• obtain current professional development information
• explore new knowledge in specific content areas
• master new fundraising-related skills and techniques
• expand approaches to effective fundraising
• further develop professional judgment
• conduct professional practice in an ethical and appropriate manner
CFRE International recognizes that the fundraising professional engages in lifelong development to maintain and improve knowledge and skills for competent practice. This includes continuous self-assessment to identify professional strengths and learning needs, establishment of short- and long-term goals for individual professional development, and selection of appropriate continuing education to meet these goals.“
That is a powerful statement regarding the role of continuing education in the fundraising profession.
Earning trust requires a demonstration of care, capability, and responsibility.  If we truly hold sacred the trust between our donors and our missions, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the highest standard of our profession so that we may provide the best care and stewardship possible?
We can do a great service to our work in fundraising by becoming passionate and vocal advocates for professional development and continuing education.  Just as donors put their hearts and minds into their philanthropic giving, we, as fundraisers, should reciprocate that gesture by ensuring we engage in best practices that respect the preciousness of the relationships and the gifts placed in our care.

John Payne