Last week I was in Nebraska among a big group of people who were all working locally in their communities. One woman raised her hand and asked for help. She said that she was a member of a coalition working to prevent underage drinking in a small town. Not long ago a young man had visited the local liquor store; he made a purchase, drank, drove, and died. The community was devastated — then the unexpected happened — the local storeowner, whose family was dependent upon the store for its survival, lost his license and his family’s livelihood. This was the first time such legal consequences were imposed in that community and it hit like a ton of bricks. She said the town was divided into camps and she asked, “What should we do?”

The room was silent for a moment. Everyone was taking in the situation — with all its complexity and pain. The question hit home and made everyone think to a deeper level for a moment.

We all have questions regarding the right things to do in those uncomfortable and muddy situations that are complex because of the context, the people involved, and the potential consequences of our action or inaction. But, that is the stuff of this sector and we cannot be afraid to grapple with it.

In nonprofit organizations, as in others, many situations we encounter are not covered by any organizational rule, although we know that some rule of behavior does apply. The Nonprofit Ethicist is there to help you discern what those rules may be. The accompanying link leads to his latest column for your reading pleasure, and we hope it spurs you to reflect and pose your own concerns.

You can write to the Nonprofit Ethicist. Describe your quandary and he will answer. This will accomplish two things — you will get guidance and you will be helping the rest of us to be more reflective and eventually more astute about our personal responsibilities in our organizations. Of course, your identity will be kept entirely confidential.

We need more of what that wonderfully generous woman in Nebraska gave us last week — the opportunity to think together about what is the right thing to do and how to do the right thing even in the most real of situations.