Ethics are not frequently on the agenda of issues to address at nonprofit board meetings. Why and how decisions are made at these meetings have a dramatic effect over the face of the organization.
Nonprofit leaders, whether it is the board of directors or management have a responsibility to be good stewards of their resources. Every decision made should be in response to fulfilling the mission. This will not always be the case. A few examples are: when leadership is corrupt, a pattern (or “slippery slide”) of unethical decisions are made, mission drift occurs in response to internal or external pressure, use of resources is not properly monitored, and when organization behaviors are not in response to population need.
How can a board improve their ethical standing? Like most problems, the first step is to recognize it. This should be fairly easy to discern with one question: Are we making decisions that help or harm the mission of our organization? Depending on the organization and how deep into the unethical swamp they are, this could get fuzzy. The next step then is to employ an operational measurement tool…a SWOT analysis. Analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats will guide a board to making changes for the betterment of the organization.
Taking an honest look into the workings of day-to-day operations is only one way to ensure ongoing best practices. Another is to continually strive for a diverse, will represented, board of directors and organization leadership, avoiding rubber-stamping members. The character of leaders will influence the way the rest of the organization is run.
Spending time to consider ethics in planning, decision making and in everyday operations will not only save time (and face) in the long run, but it will help in serving the population and advance the organization as a competitor in the nonprofit sector.