This guide provides useful advice on how to set up ethical guidelines to ensure that trustees, staff and any potential commercial partners share a common understanding of your organisation’s ethical values.
Back in 2002 the Charity Commission gave Third Sector organisations the following advice about ethics in their document Charities and Commercial Partners:
'Charities should consider establishing an ethical policy, which clearly sets out the charity's values. This will form part of their wider fundraising strategy and it can be used to ensure that trustees, staff and any potential commercial partners share a common understanding of the charity's ethical values.'
Having ethical guidelines is not a shiny new idea. It is not an exercise that will take up time and then sit in a shared drive gathering virtual dust. If approached in the right way it can be a cornerstone of your organisation’s strategy:
- A risk management tool providing guidance for leadership and potential partners
- A useful document for fundraisers to refer to when navigating through complex issues and negotiations
- A way to further cement your organisation’s sense of identity and purpose
- A guide to help your organisation keep its values and philosophy front of mind and your reputation safe
Having ethical guidelines in place can help organisations who are nervous about collaborating with businesses to embrace corporate fundraising. Employees can explore a wide range of opportunities safe in the knowledge of what to avoid and why.
Your ethical standards will be the backbone to your ethical guidelines.
WaterAid have two overarching ethical standards that are immutable and guide all their decision making:
'Ethical Standard 1: When seeking funds WaterAid will not enter into a relationship with a potential supporter whose work or activities negatively impacts on the mission of WaterAid, i.e. is contravening the rights of poor communities to gain access to safe water and improved sanitation.'
'Ethical Standard 2: WaterAid will not enter into any relationship with a third party organisation that poses a risk to WaterAid’s reputation which could lead to loss of support and credibility.'
WaterAid’s Global Ethical Policy and Standards
For some, however, it is not going to be as straight forward as this. In these instances being more explicit will help. A lot of organisations work from a list of sectors or specific industries that they do not want to associate with because it may negatively impact their reputation and/or go against their beliefs.
An environmental charity, for example, may decide that it will not work with fossil fuel focused energy companies but will explore partnerships with companies that are making considerable investments in renewable energies. A guide as to what the organisation sees as being ‘considerable investments’ should be included. In addition to this, they may also agree that it will not accept funding linked to sex industries, on ethics alone.
The Charity Commission stresses the importance of not-for-profit organisations making decisions based on purpose and not the moral agenda of individuals. Clearly outlining your organisation’s ethical standards will help mitigate against the influence of people’s prejudices and preferences.