Friday I received an interesting question by email. I thought other nonprofits may be in a similiar situation and would benefit from this Q&A and/or have some feedback to add.

Hi, Sandra,

Recently, there has been an explosion of discussion among nonprofits in our local area around soliciting clients for a donation who are recipients of social services that are offered free of charge from their respective nonprofit.

My question to you is – is it best practices and ethical to solicit a client for a donation, regardless of the type of service they have received from the respective nonprofit?

Just to clarify, when I refer to the word “solicit”, I mean even something as simple as leaving them a remittance envelope or letter, offering them the opportunity to support the nonprofit with no expectations.

I work for a local aging agency and some of our programs are based upon income level and need.  Since we have a federal obligation to deliver some of our services free of charge or on a sliding fee scale, there is hesitancy by some staff members, questioning the ethical nature of our intent to solicit.

In addition, there is another agency in the area that offers services to those with mental health issues.  Soliciting clients with mental health or addictions issues is  perceived as taking advantage of their situation.

There are others as well, but, again, there seems to be a general concern about this issue.

Any advice or input you can provide would be most appreciative!  Thank you in advance.

Ken Grunke


In general I have to agree that there is an ethical issue with charging low-income clients for services that the nonprofit was created to provide for free.  There would be certain instances where charging a small fee would be appropriate, for example, a GED prep or other class or meals at a reduced price.

If the motivation for asking for money from clients is because funds are low, this may be barking up the wrong tree.  What would the total funds raised be from a group that does not have the capacity to give?  If charging a small fee helps clients feel like they have a stake in the services they receive from the nonprofit then that is a different motivation all together.

Charging for usual services would be a major shift in the way the nonprofit operates.  So it would have to be something that the board, staff and stakeholders all agree is appropriate and right for the organization.

What do you think?  Add your comments below:

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Posted on 26 July 2010

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Joanne Fritz says:

    This is a sensitive issue and needs to approached carefully. Really, I think a nonprofit that has to resort to charging its clients for what should be free needs to look at its precarious financial situation. Should it even be in business? On the other hand, I don’t see too much amiss in gently reminding recipients of services that they can help support the organization if they desire and can afford to do so. After all, when we go to church and receive services, we also donate. When I receive the services of a hospital or clinic, I may well want to help out with a donation. These two things are not exclusive. It’s all about how it is done.

  2. Sandra Sims says:

    Great point Joanne. It goes back to the saying, “it’s not what you say, but HOW you say it!”

  3. Melvin says:

    Dear friend, great post and thank you for these great tips. I’m not sure if you know but there’s a company out of Dallas that has a great idea for fundraising. Check out . You can launch a fundraiser for your organization, non-profit, church, etc. with a unique fundraiser idea. Good luck.

  4. Elmo says:

    Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong if you charge some of your clients minimal fee. Like what you’ve said, this fee is still reasonable if it covers at least your meal within that period of working.

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