Ethical Standards for Grant Writers

Every true professional works within certain ethical guidelines and this is certainly true for grant writers. Even if you work at it part time, and teach full time, you’ll be putting on a tighter ethical hat when you enter your grant world. You are dealing with and managing money. The temptations to abuse the trust you’ve been given are there, but not if you’ve set up your office and standards to be strictly ethical in the first place.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to buy things for your classroom through regular school district channels, is the layers of oversight that are built in to the purchasing process. It’s driven by state law and experience gained from lessons learned. Be grateful, it will release you to pay firm attention to the task at hand, raising money for your kids. Leave the purchasing process to the purchasing professionals.

Ethics are so important for the grant writer that there is an organization devoted to establishing and monitoring the rules. The Grant Professionals Association (GPA) “builds and supports a community of grant professionals committed to serving the greater public good.” Their members are committed to practicing and ensuring that funds are solicited according to program guidelines.

A few of their professional obligations:

  • Members shall act according to the highest ethical standards of their institution, profession, and conscience.
  • Members shall obey all applicable local, state, provincial, and federal civil and criminal laws and regulations.
  • Members shall avoid the appearance of any criminal offense or professional misconduct.

…and so on.

In the first, they talk about “the highest ethical standards of their institution”; in your case, it’s your school. Every day, as you walk the halls of your school, aren’t you proud to look in on your colleagues and see those standards working? I know I am. There’s an occasional teacher who needs some guidance to meet that obligation. It’s the job of our institution to bring them up to those standards of ethical behavior.

Mostly, for you as the grant writer, it will come down to how you present yourself to the funding agent and your larger school community. As time goes on, you’ll find yourself dressing the part (get out the pearls), and expressing your standards (you have a LinkedIn profile, yes?) It is about professionalism but it’s more than that, working within specific ethical standards must become second nature and you can’t belittle following the rules, ever.

A Fundraiser’s Guide to Ethical Decision Making: Doing Well by Doing Right by Michael J. Rosen is a great must-read position paper for even the smallest organization that is venturing out into the world of fundraising. He talks about impediments in an organization’s infrastructure that interfere; such as extreme goal pressures and lack of experience. If a funder sees a school that is not proceeding in a deliberate and careful way with clear, realistic fund raising goals, it displays a red flag. As a school polishes its brand, it’s critical to show past successes with grants and fund raising efforts. A strong mission statement and visible leadership efforts to raise reasonable amounts of money in a given year, especially in the beginning of the school’s campaign, will go a long way to establishing ethical standards that will stand the test of time.

Here are some resources for providing professional development for would-be school district fundraisers.
CASE – Council for Advancement and Support of Education
Developing Fundraising Strategies
Fundraising Guidelines
Standards for PTA Fundraisers
Association of Fundraising Professionals

Don’t rule out joining a Grant Professional’s organization, there are always great networking opportunities on their websites. LinkedIn has a good grant writers’ group too.

Let me know how you’re doing. You may network with me by leaving a comment below.


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About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

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