Workshop & Peer Review: (Draft) Statement On Ethical Principles In Fundraising

“On January 12th, at Hoa Sen University, the LIN Center helped to organize and facilitate the workshop, “Successful Fundraising – Working toward International Ethical Standards”. The workshop was organized, in part, to share and solicit input from representatives of the nonprofit sector in Ho Chi Minh City on the first draft of a code of conduct for fundraising professionals in Vietnam.

The draft was prepared by a volunteer consortium of fundraising professionals, representing both local and international nonprofit organizations in Vietnam, who came together in 2015 for the purpose of adapting the International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising to the context and needs of nonprofits in Vietnam. The purpose of developing a “Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising in Vietnam” was to unify the fundraising community in Vietnam – those who are dedicated to accountability, transparency and effectiveness – behind a single universal declaration of fundamental principles. It was also designed to foster public trust in the nonprofit sector while discouraging personal gain at the expense of donors and stakeholders.

During the half-day workshop, three members of the consortium joined a panel to discuss their experiences with fundraising: LIN’s Founder and Strategic Advisor – Mrs. Dana R.H. Doan, the Director of Saigon Children’s Charity – Mr. Tim Mullett and the Director of ICS Center – Mr. Tran Khac Tung. The panel was moderated by a fourth member of the consortium, Ms. Nguyen Phuong Anh who is a freelance consultant and local fundraising expert.

The workshop began with a question from the moderator to all three panelists: “How did your organization build relationships with donors?”. Equality, openness and proactive sharing of information was the common position of representatives from the three organizations on the panel. Mr. Tim Mullett, said that SCC built relationships based on common interests between SCC and its donors. “It is important to understand,” he explained, “the needs of our partners.” He went on to explain some differences between individual donors and corporate donors, such as the common practice of individuals to give based on emotion, while companies would likely base their decision on information. “In addition,” Tim added, “the current trend of businesses is to request opportunities for their employees to participate in activities of the project they are funding.”

Mr. Tran Khac Tung, Director of ICS Centre similarly shared that he looks for a mutual benefit when considering a partnership with a donor. ICS donors are invited to join their events and activities and visit the office to understand each other better. By understanding the needs of the business, and vice-a-versa, nonprofits are better able to build appropriate relationships.

Ms. Dana Doan, shared LIN’s experience raising funds when the organization was just getting started and unknown in the community. “Since we did not have a track record, we had to establish our credibility. One way we would do that was to prepare and present a thoughtful and comprehensive project proposal, including a clear and detailed budget that was reasonable and directly related to the proposed activities. A logical proposal and clear budget help to build confidence in a donor that your organization knows what it is doing and has the capacity to get it done.”

Workshop participants were interested to learn strategies for retaining donors. On this question, Ms. Doan shared that donor retention requires effective communications and database management. After more than five years in operation, LIN recently transitioned from an Excel database to a cloud based CRM system. Dana explained, “As LIN increased its number of donors, we began to have difficulty keeping in contact with each of our donors. It was at that point that we recognized the need to develop a more robust database management system.” With support from a skilled volunteer, LIN was able to move its donor data to a CRM (client relationship management) system, which helps small organizations better manage information and recognize donors in a more timely and effective manner. CRM systems can also sync with email marketing platforms to enhance communications.

Tim Mullet added the experience of SCC: “NPOs should not rely solely on email or social networking channels to communicate with donors. Rather, there needs to be a more personal approach.” Tim explained that there are many reasons why a person might ignore or miss a mail. Whereas, he added, “a telephone call or meeting can help the organization maintain contact and better understand a donor’s needs.”

On keeping in touch with donors, Mr. Tran Khac Tung said that the ICS team strives to answer all donor inquiries within 24 hours. That direct and prompt contact with donors keeps ICS actively updated on the needs and interests of donors while keeping donors actively updated on what ICS has done. This type of relationship also helps ICS to stay on top of all viable funding opportunities that come their way.

In response to Ms. Phuong Anh’s question, “How do NPOs build transparency in fundraising activities?”. Mr. Tran Khac Tung acknowledging the importance of transparency in building the confidence of current and potential external partners, said that a regular flow of information between donors and NPOs and among employees within the organization is important. Good information flow, he explained, “helps build strength and credibility to the organization.”

For SCC, Mr. Tim Mullet talked about the importance of maintaining a transparent budget. Similar to ICS, SCC is open to all inquiries from donors during project implementation. He also recommended the establishment of a Board of Trustees, consisting of advisors who help ensure that the organization implements policies of transparency in their operations.

In reflecting upon LIN’s own experience, Ms. Dana Doan shared that “not everyone has the experience or natural instinct to know what is the right thing or what is the wrong thing to do when it comes to building relationships with current and prospective partners.” For this reason, prior to legal establishment, LIN developed an internal code of conduct with policies relating to procurement and gift acceptance, including gifts in kind. The LIN team appreciated having that guidance written, in black and white. “In addition,” she added, “our sponsors and partners seem to appreciate the fact that we engage an external organization to conduct an audit of our annual financial statements.” Such reports should always be made publicly available, for example on the website of your organization, she recommended.

After the panel sharing, the panelists joined participants to review and discuss the draft “Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising in Vietnam”. Five groups discussed different sections of the code and reported back their questions, concerns and recommendations for improvement. One of the recommendations made was to establish a working group or network of fundraising professionals in HCMC.

Over the next month, the consortium plans to edit the draft Statement, incorporating the comments and suggestions that were shared during the workshop and then send the statement to other stakeholders (e.g., auditors, government, donors) for a final round of review and inputs. We hope to finalize the statement before the end of June 2016 for broad dissemination.

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