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Philly Fighting COVID (PFC)

In January, concerning news about Philly Fighting COVID (PFC), came to light. In a span of less than a month, the organization, which started as a nonprofit organization focusing on testing for the coronavirus, became a vaccination provider, hired by the city of Philadelphia. During that time, unbeknownst to many, it switched its status to a for-profit organization, and by the end, the organization’s CEO, a Drexel University graduate student, admitted to taking unused doses of the vaccine home for friends.

Since then, Philadelphia city officials have cut ties with PFC, stating that it had “lost trust in them as an organization.” This move came only after officials learned of the organization’s status switch from the news. Attorney General Josh Shapiro called PFC’s behavior “unethical,” while District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office will be looking into possible crimes committed by the organization.

Why unethical? PFC’s CEO admitted on national television that he took unused doses of the vaccine home and gave it to his friends. In doing so, he ignored the rules and restrictions of the vaccine’s distribution, in essence, helping these individuals skip the line and receive it ahead of their time. Actions such as these are not just unethical; they are antithetical to the values of philanthropy and ethics upheld by nonprofit organizations. 

By allowing his friends to receive the COVID vaccine at the expense of others, the CEO’s actions perpetuated preexisting and overwhelming healthcare disparities. On January 20, Philadelphia’s WHYY reported that “PFC shuttered its coronavirus testing operations, leaving organizations — particularly in communities of color, hung out to dry with no notice.”

Additionally, once the organization changed its status to a for-profit entity, concerns were raised about changes to its privacy policy that would allow it to sell patients' data collected through their online registration site.

Shapiro recently commented, "Taking advantage of people and their privacy under the guise of serving as a nonprofit is not only unethical -- it can also be against Pennsylvania law." PFC’s actions violated the fifth standard of the AFP’s code that members comply with all applicable local, state, provincial and federal civil and criminal laws.”

Philly Fighting COVID not only lost its credibility as an organization, but it also harmed the reputation of the Philadelphia Health Department and the City of Philadelphia. As a representative of a nonprofit organization (at the time of these events), the CEO’s actions conflicted with the fundraiser’s ethical obligation not to put his or her organization in jeopardy.

As fundraisers, our work seeks to minimize barriers to access and inequity, and uphold ethical standards. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)’s Code of Ethics is the strictest ethical code for fundraising and is enforceable with its members. We strongly encourage our membership and those in the community to familiarize themselves with the Code so that it can be applied in their organizations in hopes that events like these do not happen again.

Simone Jeffers
Board Member and Chair, IDEA Committee
Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Philadelphia Chapter


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