The School of Public and Environmental Affairs is trying to fight against the recent backlash against nonprofit organizations with education on ethics.
Former Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Director Trish Tchume spoke to students and faculty Jan. 29 about the importance of ethics for nonprofit organizations.
Throughout her lecture, Tchume kept posing one question, “How do you walk through the world of work with integrity?”
Her answer to this was to reach the “ethical fence.”
The ethical fence is a metaphor for all of the work exerted by nonprofit organizations done in an ethical way.
She said it does not include the scandals often associated with nonprofit organizations
Tchume said what builds up this fence are the foundations of the IRS tax code, which states nonprofit organizations must conduct business for the benefit of the general public without shareholders or any sort of profit motive.
“The nonprofit sector is an incredibly ethical place to work,” Tchume said.
However, violations of the tax code seem to be all the media is interested in, Tchume said.
Despite the fact that there are 1.8 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, she said the only thing being reported on are the scandals in lieu of the accomplishments.
To emphasize this point, Tchume said 58 percent of nonprofit employees have reported a strong or strong-leaning ethics culture, which she said is 6 percent more than business and 8 percent more than government.
Along with this difficulty are other primarily economic ones, she said.
The marketing of nonprofits, as well as the compensation, or lack thereof, of employees are what trouble the organizations.
Donors have become less frequent with the increase of negative publicity and nonprofit scandal, she said.
Also, Tchume said she believes employer-employee relationships should be stronger and better-balanced in the nonprofit workplace.
“You do right by the people you serve by doing right to your employees,” she said.
Despite these difficulties, Tchume said she still believes in the possibility of reaching the ethical fence.
SPEA professor Beth Gazley added her thoughts to Tchume’s view of non-profit organizations.
“This is a value-driven center,” Gazley said.
To further emphasize her point, Tchume displayed a diagram demonstrating how to reach the ethical fence.
This diagram featured a series of four circle diagrams, each resting within the one larger than it like Russian nesting dolls.
The diagram as a whole explained the level of importance and relationship between factors that ultimately build the ethical fence.
The smallest circle showed the importance of feelings and intuition.
The larger one said the values of the workplace, as well as the significance of one’s role.
The even larger one was about the community and code of the workplace.
All of these were inside the biggest circle, “the story I want to tell,” which Tchume said truly builds the fence.
IU teacher and former congresswoman Jill Long Thompson agreed with the Tchume’s statements on non-profit organizations and branding.
“It’s important to recognize that the brand you have is the substance of who you are,” Thompson said.
However, for one to make their own ethical brand, he or she needs to make good decisions, she said in warning.
“A lifetime of ‘attaboys’ can be wiped out with one ‘oh shit,’” Thompson said. “Make sure you don’t have one ‘oh shit.’”