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IACP Foundation: Police Foundation Ethics and Governance

By Karen Wagener, President, Los Angeles Police Foundation, Los Angeles, California

s organizations that often provide a significant source of private support for police departments, police foundations must adhere to a code of ethics and governance practices that protect the departments they serve. Individual states and the federal government have established guidelines for not-for-profit organizations, but in the interest of transparency and integrity, police foundations should go one step further to ensure compliance with the law and to avoid actions that may bring negative attention to the organization.

In addition to standard bylaws and articles of incorporation mentioned in previous articles in this Police Chief magazine police foundation series, not-for-profit practitioners suggest that police foundations adopt specific conflict of interest policies that protect boards of directors and the respective police agencies that these foundations serve. While most police foundations are not required to do business in the same manner as local city, town, or village governments, and they may have different procurement or contract policies, avoiding conflicts of interest in all dealings is essential to a foundation’s success.

Police foundation best practices advise that community members who are not employees of the police agency being served should be considered for governing the police foundation. While newly formed and emerging foundations often rely on department civilian or sworn employees to initiate activity, forming an independent board of directors that is directly responsible for governance is critical.

Transparency also is essential to successful foundation management. Stakeholders, including board members, donors, police department staff, and community members, should understand foundation program administration and initiatives and should have a clear appreciation for the decision-making process. One officer of the board of directors should be tasked with keeping accurate minutes of all meetings, which should be made available to anyone who wants to read them. The only reasonable exception is the case of executive sessions in which personnel reviews or other sensitive topics are discussed.

A properly managed police foundation can be an invaluable asset to a police department of any size or geographic location, providing partnerships and resources that may have otherwise gone untapped. Over the years, police foundations across the United States have developed best practices and guidelines for governance. The Los Angeles Police Foundation, in partnership with the IACP Police Foundations Section, provides the following suggestions regarding police foundation best practices:


  • Maintain regular and open communication with the agency’s law enforcement executive.

  • Be transparent, ethical, and flexible.


  • Establish a written conflict of interest policy for the board, particularly one that speaks to financial interests with potential partners or funders.

  • Establish a written confidentiality policy.

  • Consider adopting the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Donor Bill of Rights (

  • Implement operating standards, such as asset management and funding guidelines.

  • Identify staff and board members responsible for public relations and interaction with the media.

  • Establish clear expectations for board members regarding fundraising, attendance at meetings, and recruiting resources for foundation projects.

  • Maintain minutes of all board and committee meetings.


  • Do not allow employees of the benefitting law enforcement agency to be board members.

  • Hire a professionally trained fundraiser, even if funding supports only one paid staff person.

  • Create endowed funds if at all possible.

  • Manage information with confidentiality, safety, accuracy, integrity, and cost-effectiveness.

  • Conduct an annual, independent, external audit.


  • Practice responsible stewardship of funds, ensuring that donations go where they are intended.

  • Understand all IRS regulations and requirements associated with accepting and recognizing donations.

  • Consult diligently with the board and the department regarding the value of telemarketing.

  • Know state laws and follow them.

  • Do not create a perception of entitlement for donors regarding access to department services or the possibility of preferential treatment.

Programs and Grants

  • Develop funding and programmatic guidelines that are clearly and mutually understood by the foundation and the department.

  • Establish a flagship program that can be identified with the foundation.

  • Suggest that the department verify the results of grants and report back to the foundation.

  • Invest at least 75 percent of total expenses in program activities. ■

The IACP Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization established to solicit, receive, administer, and expend funds for law enforcement–related charitable and educational purposes. Donations may be tax deductible; please check with your personal tax adviser. The foundation’s federal tax ID number is 54-1576762.

Please cite as:

Karen Wagener, "IACP Foundation: Police Foundation Ethics and Governance," The Police Chief 77 (April 2010): 10, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 4, April 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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