The use of digital platforms in philanthropic activities brings not only opportunities but it also raises various challenges and problems. The public and donors have started to complain and report various philanthropic practices that are considered unethical. Many of these ethical issues are encountered in many digital campaign and fundraising activities. To minimize and overcome this problem, philanthropy actors are required to implement and enforce a code of ethics and guidelines related to philanthropic activities in the digital era.
The urgency to enforce the code of ethics in digital philanthropy activities was raised during the Philanthropy Learning Forum with the topic “Philanthropy Code of Ethics in the Digital Era” which was held in Jakarta, Tuesday afternoon (9/3/2021). The event was attended by philanthropic actors and there are 4 (four) speakers: Tomy Hendrajati (Chair of the Indonesian Philanthropy Code of Ethics Task Force), Bambang Suherman (Chair of the Zakat Forum / FOZ), Heny Widiastuti (Supervisory Board of the Indonesian Humanitarian Forum / HFI) and Nugaha Andaf (CEO of Andaf Corporation Digital Agency).
Tomy Hendrajati, Chair of the Code of Ethics for Indonesian Philanthropy (KEFI) Task Force, stated that digital philanthropy has grown rapidly in Indonesia in recent years. The rapid use of digital platforms in philanthropic activities was also accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced some activities including philanthropy, to switch to digital platforms. The digital era not only promises opportunities for the development of philanthropic activities by utilizing information and communication technology, but it also raises various challenges and problems, especially ethical issues.
Several ethical issues that occur in philanthropic activities, including fundraising for personal gain (marriage cost or paying debts), the use of images or videos that exploit the grief and suffering of victims, the frequency and intensity of campaigns and donation offers that cause inconvenience to potential donors, copyright violations in the use of images and videos for campaign materials, misuse of donation distribution and utilization, lack of transparency and accountability, provocative narrations and hate speech in fundraising for social group conflicts, cyber bullying the fundraisers, organizations and beneficiaries. “Looking at four stages of philanthropy, raising, managing, distributing and reporting / accountability for donations, digital philanthropy ethical problems often occur during the donation raising stage,” he said.
According to Tomy, to overcome this ethical problem, several organizations and associations have actually issued codes of ethics or guidelines for philanthropy or fundraising activities. Filantropi Indonesia, for example, publishes the Indonesian Philanthropic Code of Ethics (KEFI) as a guide for all philanthropic actors in carrying out their activities. Apart from KEFI, there is also Amil’s Code of Ethics issued by the Zakat Forum and the Humanitarian Aid Accountability Guidelines initiated by the Indonesian Humanitarian Forum. “Unfortunately, this code of ethics and guidelines have not played an optimal role in minimizing and overcoming ethical issues in philanthropy. Apart from the lack of socialization, weak mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing the code of ethics are also an obstacle in overcoming the problems,” he said.
Bambang Suherman, Chair of the Zakat Forum (FOZ), added that ethical issues also occur in religious-based philanthropy, especially Zakat, Infaq, Alms (ZIS). This is understandable considering that most LAZIS (Amil Zakat Institutions) have also utilized digital platforms in raising ZIS. Amil or LAZIS see that the behaviour of donors or muzakki (zakat payers) in spending their assets has changed overtime. They do transactions for daily consumption expenditure using the same method as when they shop for religious needs such as ZIS. Just like our daily transactions, the ZIS transaction process has also moved from analogue or conventional to digital. This is what drives the massive use of digital platforms in raising ZIS.
Bambang added that the digital era also opens up opportunities for individuals, communities, and social institutions, to be involved in raising donations and ZIS. However, these great opportunities were followed by questions related to transparency and accountability. Apart from that, there is no supervisory mechanism from the government as a regulator. “Therefore, we need to have a tool to fill the void in state supervision in the form of a code of ethics or guidelines related to philanthropic activities or ZIS management.”
According to Bambang, Zakat Forum has released the Amil Code of Ethics in 2015 which regulates the behaviour of amil or LAZIS activists as members. Amil’s Code of Ethics stipulates that every amil or LAZIS activist must be professional, and consider the sharia and moral values in their activities. They maintain public trust by prioritizing the public interests and providing complete services. They are also required to maintain credibility and be neutral, independent and objective to avoid conflict of interest. They are also required to apply the principles of competence and prudence. “These principles are normative, but they are easy for us to apply and become an internal control in reviewing and evaluating ZIS management activities”.
Meanwhile, the Vice Chair of Filantropi Indonesia Executive Board, Suzanty Sitorus, saw the urgency in implementing and enforcing philanthropic codes of ethics and guidelines in order to foster public trust. According to her, there are many who still think the backbone or main foundation of philanthropy is donations. However, the real foundation of philanthropy is trust, specifically public and donors’ trust. Public support and donations will come if there is trust. Meanwhile, trust will grow when philanthropy actors act and behave in accordance with the norms and ethics. This is where there are many grey areas that make it difficult for philanthropy activists to determine whether their behaviour and actions are appropriate and ethical.
“Philanthropy highly depends on the trust among the perpetrators, and that belief must be supported by a common understanding of what is appropriate and what is not. We need to think about this ethical issue and then manage it in a code of ethics. This code of ethics needs to be applied and enforced so that philanthropy as a sector is not eroded by public distrust which makes it ineffective and undeveloped. “A code of ethics is also needed to self-regulate so that not all philanthropic matters are regulated by the state, which will limit and curb the development of the philanthropic sector,” she added.
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