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Branding Bytes Archives

Issue 35:
Thoughts On Using Social Media

Issue 34:
Reigning in Public-Private Partnerships

Issue 33:
Seven Ways to Avoid Toxicity In the Workplace

Issue 32:
A Few Bad Apples Bruise the Brand

Issue 31:
Branding Beyond the Logo

Issue 30:
The Yin and Yang of Celebrity Leadership

Issue 29:
Want to Raise More Funds? SPEAK UP!

Issue 28:
Government Funding Cuts: Act!

Issue 27:
"We Are Sorry":
Your Brand is Your Behavior

Issue 26:
Tell Your Story

Issue 25:
Good Leaders

Issue 24:
Think "People,"
Not "Organization"

Issue 23:
What's in a Name?
Just about Everything!

Issue 22:
Is Your Mission
Getting Creepy?

Issue 21:
Welcome to the Age
of the New Normal

Issue 20:
"Receptionist" vs Director of First Brand Impressions

Issue 19:
It's Not About How Your Message is Delivered

Issue 18:
When it Comes to Your Brand, Details Matter

Issue 17:
A Good Brand Requires TLC: Just Ask My Wife!

Issue 16:
Toxic-Work-Environment Syndrome Can Tarnish Your Brand

Issue 15:
Adjusting to the
New Face of Need

Issue 14:
Tired of all the Doom and Gloom? This is Your Time!

Issue 13:
A New Year's Resolution: Don't Cut Off Your Nose

Issue 12:
What You Do Is
About All of Us

Issue 11:
Ethical Standards
and Your Organization

Issue 10:
Leadership: Whose Journey is it, Anyway?

Issue 9:
Giving Circles
and Branding

Issue 8:
The World's Richest Men
— and Philanthropy

Issue 7:
What is an External
Brand Audit?

Issue 6:
Keeping Everyone
on Brand Message

Issue 5:
What is an Internal
Brand Audit?

Issue 4:
Turn Board Members into Better Brand Ambassadors

Issue 3:
Leadership, Vision
— and Branding

Issue 2:
What's 1st—Organization or Brand? / Govt. Cuts?—Branding Helps

Issue 1:
Branding Myths

Issue 11, Summer 2008

Ethical Standards and Your Organization

Q. Are the ethical standards of your organization withstanding the test of time?

A. A brand is not a cosmetic you apply to make your organization look pretty. Rather, a brand is nothing less than your DNA; it's a true reflection of how healthy, or unhealthy, your organization is from top to bottom — including its ethical behavior.

Unfortunately the ethical standards at many of the nation's nonprofit organizations are declining, including when it comes to financial fraud, according to a recent report by the Ethics Resource Center.

Rates of observed misconduct in nonprofit organizations by employees are at the highest level since ERC began measuring in 2000, with nonprofits faring little better than the public and private sectors.

"One would think that freed from the pressure to generate and distribute profits to shareholders, nonprofit organizations would rise high above the myriad ethics and compliance issues that have plagued the public and private sectors over the years," says ERC President Patricia Harned, Ph.D.

One would think, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

In 2007, the types of misconduct most widely observed by nonprofit employees were: putting one's own interests ahead of the organization's (24%); lying to employees (21%); abusive behavior and misreporting hours worked (each 19% each).

Boards, while very important in shaping the perceptions of employees with regard to ethics, are not taking advantage of their influence to set clear ethics standards for their nonprofit organizations. In fact, just the opposite appears to be the case. Where boards have heavy influence, there also are high levels of misconduct and lower perceptions that top leaders prioritize ethics, reports the ERC. (For a copy of the full 2007 National Nonprofit Ethics Survey, contact the Ethics Resource Center at

So what is a nonprofit that wants to operate on a high moral and ethical plane — and keep its brand strong and healthy — to do?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Recruit and hire well

How often have you heard "We need to recruit board members of affluence and influence."? I contend that if the portfolios of board members don't include wisdom and integrity, their affluence and influence often translate into a liability rather than an asset. And the record shows many an organization enduring much pain because of poor (for lack of a better word) board leadership.

But it is leadership at all organizational levels, including management, that establish the organization's corporate culture. It is they who should be providing both example and oversight when it comes to moral and ethical issues, circumstances and decision making.

2. Educate what's at risk

Believe it or not, many people don't understand what's at risk if they don't perform their jobs in an ethical, accountable manner. And ethical lapses are easy to make, especially when the corporate culture gives a wink and a nod to ethical behavior.

What's at risk? Just about everything. Think Enron, Arthur Andersen, World Com, Global Crossing and a slew of others, including numerous nonprofits that have suffered greatly because they failed to understand the risks of their questionable or unethical behavior. We'll refrain from mentioning names here, but if you follow the sector you know who they are.

3. Be transparent with your finances

Ever since Deep Throat told Bob Woodward to "follow the money", scrutiny surrounding financial malfeasance has only intensified. Be sure that you can account to your funders for how your organization spent their money; better yet, how it made a difference in helping you achieve your mission.

Poor bookkeeping is no excuse. Hire a certified accountant, if necessary.

4. Speak truth to authority

Create a corporate culture in which employees feel free to speak truthfully to management.

Surveys show that a large percentage of employees who see misconduct don't speak up either because they believe their superiors won't take action or fear they would face retaliation if they report what they saw. This tends to create an unhealthy, at-risk work environment.

5. Legal should not be the litmus test

There's a difference between what's legal and what's ethical, and it is up to an organization's leadership to understand what that difference is. If you're sitting around a conference table trying to split hairs between the two, don't go to your legal department for a resolution to your dilemma. They're being paid to find you a loophole. Rather ask yourself, "What would my mother think if this decision we're about to make finds itself on the front page of the local newspaper or on the 6 o'clock news?"

We don't need polls and surveys to tell us Americans are losing faith in their government, corporate and even religious institutions, including the nonprofit sector.

Let's strive to give people something to believe in again!

As always, I look forward to receiving your feedback, questions, success stories and branding challenges. Also, if you are in need of a motivational speaker, trainer, branding consultant/coach, or management consultant who can help you answer the questions: Who are we? What do we do? How do we do it? And should anyone care? I invite you to for more information.

In the meantime, good luck with your branding! — Larry

About Branding Bytes

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