Nonprofit Ethical Quandary?

Nonprofits have many ethical questions; ask yours here!

I heard this morning that the only people our president consulted before firing FBI director James Comey was his daughter, his son in law, and his bodyguard. None of them saw any problem with the action. After all, the Democratic Party’s fury in the face of Comey’s ill-timed reveal of the ongoing investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails right before the election is on record.

Bad advice. And bad choice of advisors for the advice. Overall, a truly shocking level of laziness and bubble dwelling. It’s the kind of thing that can easily happen when one surrounds oneself with family and friends in the workplace.

We see this in nonprofits a lot—where a family dynamic takes over, creating its own ethical construct based on shared values (in a bad way). Many of the ugliest scandals we look at have this component woven in. Take, for example, the case of Bill Davis, who was recently sentenced to four years for embezzling hundreds of thousands from the antipoverty agency he led in Minneapolis (while employing his son at a no-show agency job). Or the case of Goodwill Omaha, where they explained the multiple highly paid family members away by employing the narrative that they all “bled blue.”

And we could pull out any number of other examples. The fact is that employing family members or placing them in governance positions is generally a precursor to other ethical difficulties—so don’t do it (except in the case of a family foundation, where it kind of comes with the territory).

All nonprofits have or should have moments of ethical self-questioning, and it is in the nature of ethical questions to be subject to subjective judgment. But you can often see the problems coming—envision them flowering from some questionable belief system or practice.

Fortunately, NPQ has a wholly independent advisor to help you to consider the potential fallout and ways to address these difficult and sometimes-nuanced questions in your nonprofit. Just write to the Nonprofit Whisperer about your situation, and she will help you to figure out how to address it most effectively. We will treat it as confidential, and will change all identifying information to protect your innocence (or lack thereof)!

Your dedicated servant,

 Ruth McCambridge