I’ve been slowly working my way through the Ethics Resource
Center’s recently released National Nonprofit Ethics Survey. It is extremely
well researched and documented as are all of their studies.
There is, predictably enough, the usual combination of good
news and bad news. Among the pieces of good news is that the nonprofits in
their sample with well implemented-ethics programs saw levels of misconduct
drop to nearly zero. Further, in those cases where misconduct did occur, 100%
of cases were reported. Good news, indeed. It’s certainly tough to make a
better case than that for the return on investment for ethics training and
solid ethics program development and implementation.
Unfortunately the bad news may well be worse than the good
news is good. Legal violations in their sample, as well as violations or
organizations’ standards, rose to roughly the same levels as those found in the
for-profit business world. So, even though ethics training and program implementation
is shown to be highly effective in reducing problems, the nonprofit sector
appears, at the moment, to perhaps be ‘racing to the bottom’ with the
for-profit business world as far as the level of their need to build and
maintain cultures of ethics.
As is typical of the ERC’s reports, there is a ton of great
detail in this study and a review of this report is highly recommended for
anyone in the nonprofit world.
I’d love to be able to write off this unfortunate ‘bad news’
finding to awkward sampling error on the ERC’s part but, aside from the fact
that their research always looks impeccable, these findings closely mirror what
I see and hear as well.
the last few years, it seems to me that many of the same pressures on
non-profits to succeed – by any number of standards, including financial – have
been rapidly accelerating as financial support becomes tougher for many to
find. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all of their behavior more closely resembles
the for-profit world now. It will be a shame of significant proportions if a
deterioration of their ethics is a byproduct.