Ethics, Bad Board Chairs, and the Dirty Little Car Repair Shop

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NPQ’s Nonprofit Ethicist wants to help you with your questions about ethics in and around your organization. Is your organization doing business with board members, like the now-defunct health center in Boston that contracted for strategic planning with a firm owned in part by the board president? As I said, now-defunct. It would have been wonderful if someone had objected to that very pricy contract at the time, but no one did, and the board president got out of there right before the place declared bankruptcy.

I go to a very basic car repair shop, where a guy who is apparently addicted to Purell lords it over the counter, and the guy who usually works on my car always has to come in and exclaim that my car is his favorite color (yellow) and that it matches his specially painted tool box. The shop sits in a kind of strip mall of nothing I would want to visit, on a corner opposite a down-in-the-dumps soft-serve place that I visited once (never again!), and beyond that the never-ending traffic with its choking stench.

But I have loved going there ever since I first brought my car in for what I thought was a big problem, only to be told it was a small problem—so small, in fact, that they did not even charge me for the work. I have seen them do the same with others.

What I am saying is that the value of the enterprise shines through in the ethical and generous attitude of those who work there. You can feel it, and it acts as a kind of glue that is worth way more than a formal marketing effort.

When integrity and an ethical attitude are not present in an organization (like the health center mentioned above) one can always feel that as well, and it can be deadly—smothering productive energy, mutual trust, and reputation right out of a person or an organization.

So send the Ethicist your questions about the situations in and around your nonprofit that you believe may not be ethical. Let him either ease your mind or give you guidance on ways to address the problem.


P.S. Here are some former columns from the Ethicist so you can get the drift.