Elements of ethical proposals

Each year grant proposals result in billions of dollars in funding from private and government sources. While nonprofit managers wish more dollars were available, the grant money paid each year is significant.

“Anywhere you find big dollars, you find the risk of unethical dealings,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Those responsible for grant applications must be alert to the risks, and organizations must put systems in place to protect against unethical behavior.”

    The first step is recognizing hot spots where ethics are most likely to be violated.

  • Finances. Strong documentation, internal checks and balances, consistent inspection of budgets and expenditures, and regular independent audits are standard for a tight, well-managed organization. Although financial operations tend to get close, ongoing scrutiny, this is still the epicenter of risk. Be sure your organization’s financial systems are sturdy, and review them regularly for needed upgrades.
  • Data Integrity. Competitive grant proposals include solid data that supports the need for the program, shows the success of the applicant agency, and indicates possible impact of the proposed approach. It takes time, knowledge, and skill to track, compile, and report data accurately. And sometimes, when good data sources aren’t available, it takes even more time to pull together surveys, hold community meetings, or conduct interviews to find out what you need to know. “It’s all too easy to make up data, citations, and quotes” said Floersch. “Administrators responsible for proposal submissions must review the final draft carefully and verify data sources.” Submitting fake data, and then receiving a grant award based on that data, is fraud.
  • Plagiarism. For a good definition of plagiarism, see www.plagiarism.org. In short, it’s unethical and illegal to pretend someone else’s words or ideas are yours, fail to give credit for words or ideas you’ve copied, fail to use quotation marks for quotes, provide incorrect citations, and any similar misleading approaches. When preparing grant proposals, be careful to cite sources appropriately, fully, and accurately.