Sport is more than just a game- it has the power to bridge geographic, political and cultural boundaries. It inspires people from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds to live up to the values which are the very foundation of sportsmanship: fairness, integrity, responsibility, and respect to name a few. Yet we’re seeing now it is making headlines for as many reasons off the playing field as on it, putting these values at risk. Sports as in nonprofit business is increasing big business that involves millions of dollars and the question of ethics and governance has never been so vital. Also alarming, the ethics standards at many of the nation's nonprofit organizations are declining, according to a recent report by the Ethics Resource Center. Rates of observed misconduct, including financial fraud, by nonprofit employees are at the highest level since ERC began measuring in 2000, with nonprofits faring little better than the public and private sectors.
The goal in sportsmanship is not simply to win, but to pursue victory with honor by giving one's best effort. Ethics in sport requires four key virtues: fairness, integrity, responsibility, and respect. All athletes and coaches must follow established rules and guidelines of their respective sport. This can be said for running a non-profit organization. When board members of a charitable nonprofit adopt a code of ethics, they are expressing their commitment to ethical behavior. Such a commitment goes a long way to earning the public’s trust. Let’s review these key ethical components that will keep your nonprofit running as openly and honestly as possible.
Fairness: To maintain fairness within your non-profit you need to make a set of rules or laws that every member will be held accountable for. These laws are meant to be followed from the CEO to a volunteer. The purpose of these policies is to protect and steer the staff and the board as they fulfill the mission of the organization. They are a reference tool for ethical decision making, and for dealing with potential or actual conflicts. They are the protocol to follow that, when properly used, helps diminish embarrassing or potentially harmful situations, improper behavior, and ineffective decision making. Locally, you can contact WESST, which is a statewide small business development and training organization committed to growing New Mexico’s economy by cultivating entrepreneurship. Here you can gain information on starting policies and procedures for your non-profit if you don’t have them yet, and can help you update them if you already have a set of bylaws in place. Additionally, SCORE is a great resource that provides services in individual face-to-face mentoring provided free of charge by SCORE-certified mentors with many years of business experience.
Integrity: Integrity in our field – and everywhere else – means doing what you say you’re going to do. This must be one of the major ethical ideals we will mention here. Here at Business Solutions by Design we strive to provide the most authentic business services we can and that is only possible by doing what we say we can do. One of our main pillars of integrity that we do business by is we never get paid for our referrals. We are in a business that provides referrals from time tracking software to attorneys, from local business to dot coms and never receive a payment for any referral. How can we ask our clients to trust us in handling their business, if we take money for bringing business their way. It wouldn’t take long for the client to find out I was paid for this referral and then it wouldn’t be long until that client’s trust began to unravel and not long after that, our business relationship would end. When you put yourself out there as the change agent in a community, you have to be above reproach. The intersection of ethics and integrity can ensure that your agency is deserving of the resources of your community and up to facing its challenges.
Responsibility: Being responsible within a non-profit is showing the public where money that is given is being spent. Prospective donors understand that no company is perfect, but as long as it’s honest about the efforts, they are more willing to donate. Transparency means telling the truth about your organization, your partnership, and your goals. It means disclosing who is benefitting from a campaign, how much they are receiving, and precisely how and when funds are being raised and disbursed. No cross-sector partnership can truly get off the ground until each side has shown their playbooks, stating clearly what it can provide to the campaign (staffing, financing, exposure, equipment, media contacts or other contributions) and specifically what it expects to gain from the campaign. When your potential for-profit partner sees clear, well-thought-out objectives that are beneficial to their efforts, they will work hard to meet your goals.
Respect: Respecting a donor’s intent is an ethical issue and a legal matter that starts with educating staff and board members about the importance of maintaining donor trust, and the legal/fiduciary obligation to honor donors’ requests. Also make sure all staff and board members understand the significance of “restricted” gifts and that saying “no” to restrictions (tactfully) is sometimes the wiser response. Manage donors’ expectations about what the nonprofit will or will not accept. Example: "We are grateful for in-kind contributions that will help us deliver services to seniors, however, we do not accept contributions of used computers." A verbal agreement between a donor and a charity to use the gift in a certain way can be enforceable. Clarifying how a contribution will or will not be used and respecting a donor’s intention about the use of a gift, or how the donor will be recognized (such as a request to remain anonymous), is a basic tenet of ethical fundraising and accountability. Using a written agreement can help define how a gift will be used, and manage potential donors' expectations about what gifts a charitable nonprofit will - and will not accept.
All nonprofit organizations need to pay attention to ethical issues, for an organization without a clear ethical compass can lose the trust of the community, damage its clients' interests, and indirectly hurt the entire nonprofit sector. A nonprofit with a clear code of ethics, on the other hand, can concentrate on its mission and complete the good works it is set up to do. Our goal should be to have all our employees be as naturally honest as possible. This is just knowing the difference between right and wrong, but sometimes this is easier said than done.
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