Being Accountable: Ethical Practices of Georgia Nonprofits
The demand for ethical, accountable behavior in public businesses is a necessity for both the well-being of global markets, and the individuals whom businesses employ. Accountable behavior is even more important for the nonprofit sector inasmuch as nonprofits are dependent upon public support for their livelihood.
Nonprofits are vital to the communities that they serve. Maintaining ethical business practices ensures that nonprofits not only safeguard their public reputations, thereby preserving and cultivating the support needed to meet their social service goals, but also in order to continue assisting the communities that are often dependent upon them. Nonprofits are currently facing new obstacles–whether voluntary or imposed by government regulation–concerning their governance practices.
The following report is designed with two goals in mind: to inform Georgia’s nonprofits of pressing issues pertaining to nonprofit governance and to assess the ethical practices of Georgia’s nonprofits. It is our hope that this report will assist nonprofits across the state both in the evaluation of their ethical practices, and in a smooth structural transition if the choice is made to adopt standardized measures of governance and organizational responsibility.
A majority felt that adopting and publicizing standards for ethical practice would improve the sector's image, giving, and volunteerism.
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When surveyed, over 76% of Georgia’s nonprofit leaders stated that they feel Georgia’s nonprofit sector would benefit by adopting a standard set of ethical practices. In addition, a majority of organizations surveyed felt that adopting and publicizing standards for ethical practice would improve the image of the nonprofit sector (71%), increase giving to nonprofit organizations (52%), and increase volunteerism for nonprofit organizations (49%). Interestingly, only 39% of organizations indicated that they would definitely adopt a set of standards if they were available to them.
These numbers suggest that there is some trepidation concerning how standardization of practices will impact the sector here in Georgia, in addition to what exactly standardization means. Advisory committees for nonprofits nationally have narrowed nonprofit standardization to include the following aspects:
1) Well-defined mission statements and programmatic activities designed to both adhere to and implement an organization’s mission.
2) Detailed governance guidelines that dictate the activities of an organization’s board members, the selection of board members, and human resource polices for both employees and volunteers
3) Financial and legal operations
4) Organizational openness concerning mission, programs, and finances; factual and honest public affairs and policy
5) Ethical fund-raising practices
The Georgia Standards for Excellence addresses all of the above, and even though only 14.5% of respondents surveyed for this report were aware of its creation, the majority of Georgia’s nonprofits have safeguards in place to ensure ethical practices in each of the areas outlined. Areas for improvement are evident, and the following sections are summaries of the key findings concerning the ethical practices of Georgia’s nonprofits in relation to the above. Data concerning practices are assessed according to the guiding principles in the Standards for Excellence.
The majority of Georgia’s nonprofits are safeguarding their practices to ensure ethical and accountable behavior, however, based on assessment of the current political climate surrounding the sector and the findings from this study, we suggest that Georgia’s nonprofits perform evaluations on the following:
a) Programmatic activity
b) Specifications for board responsibilities, conduct, and activities
c) Grievance policies and whistle-blower protections
d) Written personnel policies
e) Financial and legal operations that comply with current local, state
and federal law
f) Dissemination of information to the public concerning compliance
A proactive approach to revamping the perception of nonprofit governance will go a long way in safeguarding the reputation of nonprofits and allowing organizations to continue their service of the community.
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