Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is Your Staff Being Quietly Bribed?

Character counts.
Yet, one of the disturbing trends the past two decades is the rise of blatant conflicts of interests in nonprofits.  This is more than just the outright fraud, but also the petty mutual relationships which enrich both parties.  Few people seem to understand the seriousness of what's happening.  One way to create a culture of cleanliness is by having a very clear Gift Policy.
My most vivid experience about the need for such came one Christmas during the 1980s in the office of an ExecDir of a Community Action agency. Since they acted as fiscal agent for numerous federal $$$ he had a number of subcontractors. His office was stacked with various 'holiday' gifts from various vendors. Some innocuous such as a fruit basket, but some like luxury box tickets to an NHL game. But it never crossed his mind nor that of the Board that this might set up a conflict of interest.

So YES, you do need a gift policy. The Board is the supreme fiduciary authority in the organization and is responsible for making sure all business is done in an ethical and transparent manner.

While corruption can kill a nonprofit, equally damaging can be the mere appearance of impropriety. Your image and reputation translate into community goodwill as well as cash...conflicts of interests put that at risk. Furthermore, if your ExecDir were to conspire to defraud the agency in collaboration with a vendor, one of the things your insurance company will look at is if you had policies in place governing the relationship. Insurance companies have denied claims for less.

Furthermore, if the ExecDir thinks it's OK, then other employees will act accordingly. Thus the vague ethical problems permeate the organization until one day something happens somewhere which winds up on the 6 O'clock news.

Here's one I helped a nonprofit draft back in 2005.  They had no stated policy, but they had an issue arise where the ExecDir was winter storing his camper and boat free of charge in a contractor's warehouse. It came out as part of a story about the contractor and severely embarrassed the organization. 

17. General Policy On Gifts To Any Representative of 'XYZ Nonprofit'

17.1 To avoid a conflict of interest, the appearance of a conflict of interest, or the need for our Board members and employees to examine the ethics of acceptance, XYZ Nonprofit Board members and employees do not accept gifts nor in-kind services in excess of $10 (ten dollars) from vendors, donors, volunteers, clients, suppliers, potential employees, potential vendors or suppliers, or any other individual or organization, under any circumstances.

17.2 Exceptions to this rule are limited to:

  • Gifts of food, candy, flowers, etc which can be shared amongst all staff/volunteers. Such gifts must be placed in employee lounge and accessible to all.
  • Such promotional items such as coffee mugs, pens, key chains, etc which vendors distribute to all clients as part of their general marketing.
  • Invitations to meals at moderately priced restaurants (up to $25) for the purpose of discussing business matters related to XYZ Nonprofit.

17.3 When an invalid gift is received:

When Board member or staff receive a gift which violates this policy, such person shall notify their immediate supervisor and make arrangements to return the gift along with a brief note expressing appreciation for the thought, but that such gifts are not accepted under XYZ policy.


Anonymous said...

thank you. this casued me to look at our policy manual ad find we have no gift policy. but we will soon :-)

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. Several times I've noticed my supervisor bring in his personal computer for fixing by our IT contractor who does it as a favor. Did not think of this as a conflict of interst until now