Managing Ethics in Nonprofit Workplaces: A Practical Guide

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    Managing Ethics in Nonprofit Workplace

    Free Nonprofit Micro-eMBA Module #13:

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

    This module is in the nonprofit organization development program. However, this module can also be used by anyone as a self-study exercise to learn practical approaches to managing ethics in the workplace.

    Sections of This Module Include the Following


    The management of ethics in the workplace holds tremendous benefits for everyone, benefits both moral — and even practical. This is particularly true today when it is critical to understand and manage highly diverse values in the workplace, and at a time when too many people still feel that business ethics is a topic for philosophy or is about shaming and blaming people. This module aims to make the topic of business ethics very understandable and accessible.

    The field of business ethics has traditionally been the domain of philosophers, academics, and social critics. Consequently, much of today’s literature about business ethics is not geared toward the practical needs of leaders and managers — the people primarily responsible for managing ethics in the workplace. The most frequent forms of business ethics literature today typically include:

    • a) philosophical, which requires extensive orientation and analysis;
    • b) anthologies, which require much time, review, and integration;
    • c) case studies, which require numerous cases, and much time and analyses to synthesize; and
    • d) extended stories about businesses “gone bad”.

    This lack of practical information is not the fault of philosophers, academics, or social critics. The problem is the outcome of insufficient involvement of leaders and managers in discussions and literature about business ethics. More leaders and managers must become more involved. This module aims to help address this issue.


    Set Up Systems to Manage Ethics, Including:

    1. What is Business Ethics?
    2. Myths About Business Ethics
    3. 10 Benefits of Managing Ethics
    4. Ethics Management System
    5. 8 Guidelines for Managing Ethics
    6. 6 Key Roles and Responsibilities
    7. Codes of Ethics
    8. Codes of Conduct
    9. Ethics Policies and Procedures
    10. Resolving Ethical Dilemmas
    11. Conduct Ethics Training



    • Learners are strongly encouraged to discuss the following questions with peers, board members, management, and employees, as appropriate.

    1. What are “ethics” and “business ethics”? (See What is Business Ethics?)

    2. What are at least 3 of the myths about business ethics? (See 10 Myths About Business Ethics.)

    3. What are at least 4 of the benefits of managing ethics in the workplace? (See 10 Benefits of Managing Ethics in the Workplace.)

    4. What does a highly ethical organization look like? (See One Description of a Highly Ethical Organization.)

    5. What is an ethics management program? What does it do and how does it do it? Do all organizations have an ethics management program? (See Ethics Management Programs: An Overview.)

    6. What are 4 of the benefits of managing ethics as a program? (See Ethics Management Programs: An Overview.)

    7. What are at least 4 of the guidelines for managing ethics in the workplace? (See 8 Guidelines for Managing Ethics in the Workplace.)

    8. What are at least 4 of the roles and responsibilities to manage ethics as a program in the workplace? (See 6 Key Roles and Responsibilities in Ethics Management.)

    9. What is a code of ethics? (See Ethics Tools: Codes of Ethics.)

    10. What is a code of conduct? (See Ethics Tools: Codes of Conduct.)

    11. What are at least 5 of the types of policies and procedures that could be used to guide behavior toward those suggested in a code of ethics or conduct? (See Ethics Tools: Policies and Procedures.)

    12. What is an ethical dilemma? Does it usually involve a clear right and wrong? (See Ethics Tools: Resolving Ethical Dilemmas.)

    13. What are at least 3 examples of real-life ethical dilemmas? (See Ethics Tools: Resolving Ethical Dilemmas.)

    14. Describe at least 1 of the 3 examples provided for resolving, or addressing, an ethical dilemma. (See Ethics Tools: Resolving Ethical Dilemmas.)

    15. If you have an ethics policy that asserts certain desired behaviors in the workplace, but you actually tolerate those behaviors, what will the legal system usually decide are your actual policies? (See Ethics Tools: Training.)

    16. What training might you conduct for sensitive organization members regarding the ethical aspects of their day-to-day activities and decisions? (See Ethics Tools: Training.)

    17. What are at least 5 ways to train people about an ethics program and ethics in the workplace? (See Ethics Tools: Training.)


    • Learners are strongly encouraged to complete the following activities and share and discuss results with peers, board members, management, and employees, as appropriate.

    1. Draft a code of ethics for your organization. Remember to include examples of preferred behaviors with each of the values in your code of ethics. Present the code to your board, explain its purpose and how you’d like to use it, e.g., to discuss it with staff members, post it throughout your organization, and renew
    it annually. (See Ethics Tools: Codes of Ethics and Ethics Tools: Codes of Conduct).

    2. Pose an ethical dilemma (from the reviewed materials) to the staff and walk them through the application of one of the three methods to resolve ethical dilemmas (these methods are included in the materials, as well). (See Ethics Tools: Resolving Ethical Dilemmas.)

    3. Refer to your mental list of the most likely ethical dilemmas to occur in your organization. Would these potential dilemmas be addressed by current policies and procedures? Note what policies and procedures need to be added (including a yearly review of your code of ethics) and propose them to a local personnel expert. Update your policies handbook and explain the additions to all organization members. (See Ethics Tools: Policies and Procedures.)


    Culture is comprised of the values, norms, folkways, and behaviors of an organization. Ethics is about moral values, or values regarding right and wrong. Therefore, cultural assessments can be extremely valuable when assessing the moral values in an organization.


    1. One of the first indicators that an organization or a person is struggling is that open action items are not tracked and reviewed. (Open action items are required actions that have not yet been completed.) Instead, people only see and react to the latest “fires” in their workplaces or their lives. Whether open action items are critical to addressing now or not, they should not entirely be forgotten. Therefore, update and regularly review a list of open action items (identified while proceeding through this program) that includes listing each open action item, who is responsible to complete it, when it should be completed, and any associated comments. When updating the list, consider action items as identified during discussions, learning activities, and assessments in this module. Share and regularly review this action item list with the appropriate peers, board, management, and employees in your organization. You can use the following Action Item Planning List. (At that Web address, a box might open, asking you which software application to open the document.)

    2. If you have questions, consider posing them in the national, free, online discussion group, which is attended by many human resource and organization development experts.

    (Learners in the organization development program can return to the home page of the organization development program.)

    For the Category of Ethics:

    To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

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