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Friday, June 24, 2011

Ethics in Nonprofits - Amy

As I’m feverishly looking for more information and ideas to complete my blog entries, a friend mentioned if I’d looked in the Roanoke Times today. Why no, I had not. So I look to see what interesting information about local nonprofits could possibly be in the paper. What I find is an article about the Vice President of Planned Parenthood being recently charged with three counts of petit larceny for stealing wine from a local grocery store. He not only did this once, he did this on at least two occasions that were caught on film. He was charged with petit larceny, which means the dollar amount of the theft was relatively small in each occurrence. But it led me to question the ethics of the man and how a nonprofit should handle a situation when one of their board members makes poor decisions.

Ethics are defined by Merriam-Webster as “set of moral principles”. These principles would include honesty, integrity, proper behavior and just doing the right thing. I would argue that being a law-abiding citizen is being ethical. It is doing “right”.

Ethics in nonprofits is not a new topic. And I’m sure if any nonprofit organization has had to examine and defend their ethics, it would be Planned Parenthood. However, I think it’s fair to say that they were not prepared with how to deal with a Board member committing a criminal act. Immediately questions begin to cross my mind as a community member – if the VP of a nonprofit is willing to steal from a grocery store, where else is he willing to steal from? Is the money that I donate (if I donate to this organization) safe and going towards the services and programs I wish to sponsor? What else is going on in that organization we don’t know about?

The public’s trust in an organization wans when they see an agency’s officer appear in the newspaper for stealing.

My next question is whether or not the Board should retain this individual, especially in the capacity of an officer? One of the things that will affect this answer is whether or not the Board has a Code of Ethics, and if they do, whether committing a crime is considered unethical. The Board should also consider how the publicity will affect its reputation in the community and its donations.

While I was doing my Board Assessment and then reviewing the Assessments completed by my peers, I did not see a lot of information about Boards having their own Code of Ethics. I think this is especially important for nonprofit Board’s, because often the members of the Board are volunteer and not employees of the agency. Depending on how personnel procedures are written, an agency Code of Ethics or other policies may not be able to be used on Board Members. There are a lot of good resources on how to create your own Code of Ethics. The Council of Nonprofits has a lot of information concerning ethics on their website found here: Check it out and see whether or not your nonprofit organization would benefit from developing its own Code of Ethics.

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