Nonprofits & Ethics Codes

Do nonprofit organizations need there own code of ethics? Maybe, indeed it is not uncommon for nonprofits to develop a code tailored to their needs. Consider the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County (CBHC), Florida. The CBHC experienced an executive leadership crisis triggered by $500,000 in no-bid contracts that went to people with connections to the CBHC, accusations of low morale among employees that included a culture of retribution, and media charges of a bloated agency that was saddled by high administrative overhead costs. Enter the fix—former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was hired as the Interim CEO who quickly set about downsizing the workforce and drafting a code of ethics.  The code was adopted on January 24, 2013.

Here are selected features: (The full code is online at!code-of-ethics/c172l)

I. Statement of Ethical Standards that calls for employees to “uphold the law, safeguard the public’s money, be held accountable for a job well done, regard public service as an honor . . . and always place our mission of bettering the lives of the children in Hillsborough County in the forefront of our daily work and decision making.”

II. Asserts Children’s Board employees must never: (10 items)

Be untruthful.

Use public employment for private gain.

Show disrespect to any member of the public.

Lack impartiality.

Discriminate against or harass anyone.

III. Prohibits employees from (15 items)

Accepting gifts in the performance of official duties.

Wrongfully and intentionally destroying a public record.

Divulging any information other than public information . . . to gain personal advantage.

Borrowing or lending money to any employee.

Making sexual advances, requests for sexual favors . . . or engaging in verbal  or physical conduct of a sexual nature including, for example, sexual  jokes or gestures regardless of whether such conduct is consensual.

Having close personal relationships with subordinate personnel.

IV. Procurement (5 items)

The Children’s Board will spend the taxpayer’s money wisely.

All procurement will be done competitively and fairly as required by the adopted procurement procedures.

No employee shall engage in communications with bidders or bidders  outside of the procurement process on the subject of a pending procurement.

V. Employment (9 items)

Hiring will be done on the basis of qualifications and experience without  discrimination of any kind.

Relatives of an existing Children’s Board staff or Board member will not be hired.

Supervisors and employees are prohibited from taking any retaliatory personnel action against a fellow employee for disclosing an activity of the Children’s Board that is in violation of a law.

Any employee who knowingly files a false complaint against a fellow employee will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Employees must sign a document acknowledging that they have received the code and agree to comply with its requirements.

The reader should note that a statement of values with an emphasis on–integrity, excellence, teamwork, and respect–accompanies the code.

Questions to Ponder:

1. Is this code sufficiently inclusive? Does it omit anything significant? Is it too specific? Why or why not?

2. Will it encourage ethical behavior and discourage unethical behavior?

3. Could it produce a “gotcha” organizational culture or encourage gaming the rules? Why or why not?

4. Would you like or dislike working in an organization with this code? Why or why not?


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