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Nonprofits and Ethics Panel Aligns Mission, Morals, and Money

Friday, Aug. 30, 2013

"Since they accept charitable gifts, nonprofits are increasingly in the spotlight and face greater scrutiny and accountability then ever before," agreed the presenters during the "Ethical Dilemmas and Nonprofits" panel held on August 20, and sponsored by The Markkula Ethics Center, AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals-Silicon Valley), and Focus Bank.

Moderator Ervie Smith, representing Focus Business Bank, led panelists through a lively and informative series of ethical questions and scenarios commonly facing nonprofit communities, well received by the audience of 80 association leaders. Featured panelists were: Brian Adams, Bellarmine College Prep Christian Service Program; Judith Kleinberg, Knight Foundation; and Peter Hero, The Hero Group.

One of the ethical scenarios involved the issue of "giving for a gift," a real life case study in which  a parent alumnus offers a donation to a school in return for his child's admission. "Any strings attached to a gift is a major red flag. In this scenario, simply do not accept the gift."

Another scenario involved "interpretive" staff trips and expenses. For example, your job requires matching expense reports with receipts, and you find that while some staff were cautious and thrifty spenders, others took cabs, enjoyed room service, and helped themselves to the allure of the hotel "mini bar. "

"First, there must be clear and  ironclad rules regarding business travel expenses detailed in the employee handbook, so that there is one standard for all staff," the panelists commented. "Second, confront those who did the gratuitous spending, offer them opportunity to explain, but make them accountable. They need to know there will be consequences to this behavior."

Other highlights included:

  • Examples of ethical issues include: conflicts of interest, plagiarism, invasion of privacy, bias, and deceit or lack of transparency
  • Donors want nonprofits to succeed, and organizations should be transparent if they're facing financial stresses that challenge a grant's purpose
  • If a nonprofit is dishonest or fails to be transparent, its reputation is jeopardized
  • There is great importance in the donor-institution connection...it's all about relationships
  • Fundraising staff need to understand the mission of the organization and ultimately protect the brand