8 Steps for Leading Ethically and With Transparency

May 26, 2021
Capacity Experts: 8 Steps for Leading Ethically and With Transparency

Transparency is an essential component of ensuring accountability and running an ethical organization. However, how do you know you are running a transparent organization when there are seemingly so many definitions? Most of them are limited to making financial, programmatic, and organizational data public. However, I would argue that it also extends to governance and management practices. When organizations do not engage in transparent decision-making and regularly ignore their own rules, they lose the trust of their staff and volunteers. This inevitably hampers the ability of the organization to carry out its mission. 

8 Steps for Transparency:

The following 8 steps, will help your organization maintain transparency and run an ethical organization: 

1. Policies and procedures impacting governance go through a formal adoption procedure by the Board of Directors.

Maintaining an official record of the organization’s decisions increases organizational accountability by allowing the auditing committee to identify areas where practices are deviating from formal decisions; provides legal protection to employees and board members by making sure there is a formal description of how the rules are supposed to work; and helps to prevent the inconsistent application of rules and procedures.

2. There is an appropriate paper trail of all matters related to compliance, procedures, and decisions made in real time. 

All critical decisions can be reviewed to ensure that the organization is following its own policies and procedures, meets compliance requirements, and can self-audit its decision-making processes in an ethics audit. Furthermore, this guarantees for all staff, board members, managers, and executives that historical occurrences are not refashioned to hide illicit or unethical behavior or to avoid accountability. 

3. There is a compliance monitoring/ audit schedule that is overseen by an independent audit committee. 

The organization regularly checks its systems, programs, management, and board practices to ensure they are a values-driven organization whose practices match its mission. This includes ensuring legal and appropriate financial transactions and auditing procedures, which are assessed through an independent audit committee. 

4. Policies and procedures are faithfully, universally, and consistently implemented.

This ensures that the organization does not target employees; there is a fair environment free of bullying and sabotage; reassures staff that no one in the organization is getting preferential treatment; and demonstrates through actions that the same rules apply to all. This clarity also helps the organization’s staff to identify and address ethics lapses or inappropriate behavior because they know that only one set of rules applies. 

5All policies and procedures have corresponding implementation instructions, including what to do when there are violations. 

All staff and board members understand the process they must follow to report unethical or illegal acts. Furthermore, everyone at all levels of the organization has received training on their rights as whistleblowers. This is coupled with an infrastructure that provides whistle-blower protections. 

6. The organization is fiscally transparent to donors and posts key documents online.

The 990-tax return is posted on the website along with an annual report. A recent audit and a summary of the most recent board activity and decisions made are also useful. Unless it is for security reasons, you should also list your board members and senior staff on your website. Typical organizations with safety concerns would include, but not be limited to, organizations that provide services to trafficked populations or work on anti-corruption initiatives where employees’ lives could be at risk.

8. The board and staff prevent and avoid conflicts of interest. 

This means that all staff and board members disclose conflicts of interest at all levels of the organization based on the parameters set out in the conflict-of-interest policy that was approved by the Board. A conflict-of-interest policy is a tool that aims to deter board members or staff from benefiting from their service financially or personally.

Share Your Story

Please share your experiences with ensuring transparency in organizations. Share with us situations where you felt that organizations could benefit from more transparent practices. 

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