By Laura Taylor
SOS Account Executive
We all do our best to live by moral standards, be good examples to youth, and carry those same principles forward at work. The Associations with whom we work all have mission statements. Do they also have a code of ethics, core ethical standards, or guiding principles that assist them in conducting business professionally, legally, and ethically? Why have a Code of Ethics? Here are a couple of reasons why having a code of ethics is prudent.
There is an assumption that every trade, profession, and organization will conduct business with fairness, morality, and integrity. But remember, all levels of nonprofits are held to a higher standard simply because they are classified as nonprofits. The expectations are that our associations will operate at a higher level of honor and truthfulness.
Knowing that, it behooves associations to craft and post a code of ethics or statement of values. This demonstrates a commitment to ethical behavior which can result in overall public trust and confidence in an association. Having a code of ethics prominently placed on a website is an indication to prospective members and volunteers what the values of the association are with transparency and accountability being priorities (www.councilofnonprofits.org).
Assist with moral dilemmas:
In addition to the appearance and image of an association, ethical codes can be very useful in assisting leaders in professional conduct and principled decision-making. Rhode and Packel point out in Ethics and Nonprofits, often ethical problems come into play in gray areas like peripheries of fraud, conflicts of interest, and misallocations of resources. There are four areas of morality which influence making decisions.
- Moral awareness or recognizing that there may be an ethical issue
- Moral decision-making or knowing what actions are ethically sound
- Moral intent or understanding which values take priority
- Moral action means following through on ethical decisions.
Furthermore, some leaders are very confident in their own judgement. At times, this can lead to over-optimism and commitments that cannot be fulfilled. This can result in covering up mistakes because the problems cannot be rectified easily.
Group biases can happen as well. Ethical reasoning is influenced. There may be a great deal of pressure from the group or the given expectations of the organization. Group decision-making can also lack accountability (2009, pp 30-31).
Establishing a code of ethics may not always result in sound decision-making but if leaders focus on the instituted values and guiding principles, acting with integrity will encourage like actions by others.
Our Industry Example:
As members of American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and running the risk of preaching to the choir, there are Core Ethical Standards established as follows.
An ASAE member should aspire to:
- Respect and uphold public laws that govern one’s work;
- Be honest in conducting the member’s business;
- Respect the confidentiality of information gained through one’s work;
- Act fairly;
- Foster an ethical culture through one’s work; and
- Take responsibility for one’s conduct (www.asaecenter.org)
Additionally, those individuals who have achieved their CAE certification as well as those who may be preparing to achieve the certification understand that under the Membership Development Domain, there is a section dedicated to the Ethics Program. The objectives of what one needs to comprehend and be able to demonstrate to associations are as follows.
- Define the ethical standards of professional conduct that aligns with the vision and mission of the organization.
- Raise awareness of the ethical standards to foster the community which encourages members to identify and adhere to the ethical standards of professional conduct.
- Establish and manage a discipline program to address violations of the ethical standards of professional conduct.
- Review professional and industry practices to determine how to maintain the relevance of the ethical standards of professional conduct (www.asaecenter/programs/cae-certification/).
How to Write a Code of Ethics:
There are several examples of codes of ethics whether your association is establishing one for the first time or revisiting the current one. Reviewing this document on a regular basis is encouraged as it should be a living document. The Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector is a comprehensive resource that works to promote excellence and trust in the nonprofit sector.
Here are some basic steps provided by betterteam.com to get an organization started on the process.
- Review your mission statement and core values. When making decisions, this is a good place to start.
- Talk to stakeholders. Get everyone involved, ensuring that your code reflects the association’s most important values.
- Review past ethical issues. What are the strengths? What are the opportunities based on past challenges?
- See where other organizations have faltered. Are there other colleagues in the same industry with experience in this area?
- Create a draft code for input and discussion. Give everyone a chance to provide input on the draft.
- Create a final draft and share it. Circulate it, celebrate it, review it often (www.betterteam.com).
As mentioned previously, having a code of ethics in place does not guarantee consistent ethical behavior. However, it can be an important and essential tool when used to strengthen the public’s trust in the association, reinforce accountability, and support transparency. Having high ethical standards helps our associations be effective in their work and ultimately more successful.
- Rhode, D.L., & Packel, A.K. (2009). Ethics and Nonprofits [Review of stanford social innovation review Stanford Graduate School of Business]. Stanford Innovation Review, (Summer),29-35.