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Taking a Principled Approach to Ethical Challenges & Questions

Posted by BoardSource on Oct 24, 2015 6:00:46 AM

valuesblogBy Kendall Joyner, director of programs and practice, and Amanda Broun, vice president of programs and practice, Independent Sector

This post is one in a series written by leaders who are presenting sessions at the 2015 BoardSource Leadership Forum taking place on November 9 & 10 in New Orleans. We invite you to join us.

“I’m not sure whether our chief executive is being transparent with the board and ensuring that appropriate organizational issues are brought to the board’s attention. What should I do?”

“I think that one of my fellow board members has a conflict of interest that she’s not disclosing. Should I bring this issue to the board?”

“If a member of my board brings in a donor or mailing list from another organization, how should I handle that?”

Board members wrestle with ethical questions like these all the time, on issues ranging from transparency and managing the relationship with the chief executive to conflicts of interest and data privacy and protection. At this year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum, we’re excited to dive into your ethical challenges and questions, as we share highlights and updates from Independent Sector’s Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice.

The Principles, first published in 2007 and updated in 2015, outline 33 principles of sound practice for charitable organizations and foundations. They provide a framework that senior management and board members can use to strengthen effectiveness and accountability within their organization. One section of the guide focuses on effective governance, and others cover legal compliance and public disclosure, financial oversight, and responsible fundraising.

One area that we considered in depth when updating the Principles was risk tolerance and mitigation in response to technology advances — including issues of data security and privacy. The question posed above related to sharing donor lists touches on a few principles that were updated to reflect the current climate in which charitable organizations operate.

Our Principle 6 (Protection of Assets) states that a charitable organization’s board should ensure that the organization has adequate plans to protect its assets against damage and loss. This includes the extensive data that many charitable organizations now collect regarding donors, employees, volunteers, clients, and consumers. Organizations have a duty to let individuals know what information is being collected, how it will be used and protected, and how to inform the organization if the individual does not want their data to be shared.

Additionally, according to Principle 33, charitable organizations must respect the privacy of individual donors, and should not sell or otherwise make available the names and contact information of its donors without providing them an opportunity to opt out. Principle 33 also asserts that donor information is the proprietary information of the organization — not of individual fundraisers — and that this information cannot be shared without clear permission of both the donor and the organization. Similar to Principle 6, Principle 33 recommends that organizations have an online privacy policy, provide clear “opt out” procedures, and immediately honor a donor’s request to be removed from mailing lists.

When presented with a dilemma about shared donor or mailing lists, board members may want to ask how the information was collected, whether donors gave consent for their information to be shared, and whether the originating organization had appropriate controls in place to protect the data.

This example just skims the surface of the indispensable guidance included in the Principles. Visit www.principlesforgood.com to learn more or click here to download a free PDF version of the guide. We look forward to hearing your ethical questions and exploring how the principles can provide guidance during our session, “Ethics and Accountability: From the Mailroom to the Boardroom” during the 2015 BoardSource Leadership Forum.




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