Ethical Considerations for Gift Planners Working with Older Individuals

This article first appeared in the December 2017 edition of the Association of Fundraising Professional Northern New England Chapter’s e-newsletter.  It is reprinted here in its entirety with their permission.

By Daphne Moritz

With a gradual rise in life expectancies overall, it is no surprise that gift planners are increasingly working with older donors. Most gift planners are aware of and follow ethical canons using guidelines offered by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning. The ethical guidelines have in mind the best practices when it comes to working with donors.

While it is essential for planners to understand these guidelines, putting ethical considerations into practice may be more challenging, particularly when working directly with an aging donor population. Those over age 65 retain a great deal of wealth, but we also know that one in nine people over age 65 has dementia, and this number increases dramatically for those over age 85. Moreover, even without a formal diagnosis of dementia, many older individuals eventually struggle with their executive functioning, finding even daily banking and bill payment challenging. Knowing this, should lead gift planners to be extra vigilant with aging donors.

Take multiple meetings before a donor completes a gift. Most gift planners know that cultivating a relationship with an individual is a critical part of the gifting process. Multiple meetings will allow you to get to know each other in more detail, ask a greater variety of questions, and responsibly review a prospective donor’s intentions.

Be aware that seniors may have been subject to scams, some under the guise of charitable giving. If the individual you are working with is aware of fraudulent and deceptive schemes, she may be less forthcoming and developing the trust relationship with her may be more challenging. Be extra vigilant to avoid misleading marketing techniques.

Put it in writing. It is advisable to put any sort of planned gift agreement in writing so that both parties are aware of the agreement they are entering into. Disclosing the terms prior to finalizing the agreement will provide more clarity for everyone involved.

Another idea is to put yourself or one of your family members in your prospective donor’s shoes. You wouldn’t want anyone taking advantage, or even appearing to take advantage of you or your loved ones. Thus, consider the “relative” test to be a good rule of thumb when working with older donors.

Daphne Moritz can be reached at or 802-864-9891.