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Audit Your Ethics
by Sandra Trice Gray

See the complete list of articles by Sandra Gray.

Heighten awareness of responsible behavior by evaluating your association’s ethical code.

An annual ethics audit is as important as an annual fiscal audit. It helps bring the association’s core values and ethics into focus and conveys the importance of sharing organizational values and ethics. The ethics audit likewise provides an opportunity to evaluate the extent to which the association’s daily performance complies with its code of ethics.

We can make no more significant investment than to ensure that our organization’s core values, as expressed in a code of ethics, are being practiced each moment that our staff members and volunteers are representing our organizations. Don’t assume that because your organization develops a formal statement of values that it is either acknowledged or implemented. That’s where the audit process comes in — it is a mechanism for heightening awareness of your association’s ethics code and reminding staff and members to practice it.

Audit process

Discussion is the heart of the ethics audit. Because there aren’t always clear right and wrong answers to ethical questions, make sure the ethics audit provides opportunities for dialogue among as many people as possible — both board and staff members. Here are some important steps.

Preparing for the audit:

Schedule a retreat and/or a series of sessions (at least 90 minutes in length) for both board and staff members. Do not separate management and support staff at these sessions, since one objective is to function as a team in which all viewpoints are welcomed.

Strongly encourage attendance. Making the audit a priority will help bring attention to the topic. Distribute copies of the association’s ethics code beforehand so that participants can evaluate the association prior to the meeting and formulate individual impressions.

During the session:

Discuss the association’s ethics code to find out what employees and volunteers think and how they feel it could be enhanced.

Invite feedback regarding when the association has adhered to its values and when it has strayed.

Discuss ethics and values by using specific examples of staff or volunteer behavior or by using hypothetical situations to avoid identifying personalities with behaviors.

Suggest ways to make reasoned decisions when confronted with ethical dilemmas.

Audit results

It is critically important for the organization to deal openly with any inconsistent applications of ethics policies, particularly where staff and volunteers notice them. It may be a good idea to appoint someone to be available to any staff or association member to discuss matters involving the association’s ethics code, including its application in specific situations. No report needs to be made about these confidential discussions, unless the person conveying the information specifically requests it.

Ideally, the ethics audit process fosters open discussion of the association’s values and ethics code among all levels of staff members, board members, and volunteers. The association that achieves this level of openness is far more likely to be successful in fulfilling its mission effectively and responsibly.


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