I am involved with running a couple of businesses and, to be honest, most of my attention is dedicated to the urgent daily matters of making sure there is enough work coming in to keep the total 60+ employees (including me!) paid, keeping our clients happy, working efficiently and meeting our legal obligations. We have always tried to be good corporate citizens, and my companies were early members of various professional bodies, such as the Fundraising Standards Board. But recently I have had to think much more about ethics, and in ways which I didn’t expect.
The first thing which happened was that two new colleagues I recruited to help with marketing at The Phone Room began to think about our USP – what makes us special. They decided that in telephone fundraising, which has become a highly-competitive business where several companies do the same kind of work more-or-less equally as well, our stand-out features were honesty and transparency. I didn’t need convincing that we should be ethical, but wasn’t sure that this gave us any extra traction with our clients and staff. And anyway, were we saying that our competitors are unethical? But by showing me the ways in which The Phone Room demonstrates ethical behaviour and open-ness much more than most of our competitors, I began to be persuaded and my colleagues put their draft ethos statement around the whole company for comment.
It was then a shock when one of our colleagues said he couldn’t support the ethos statement because we already breached it ourselves! He explained what he meant and he was right! One particular way we used to present data could be taken to mislead clients. Not illegal, not dishonest, not in breach of contract, but certainly unethical. So we called a whole-company meeting to talk through that particular point and the whole ethos statement. This was one of the most rewarding meetings I have attended for a long time – a discussion about what people valued about working at TPR and how we could be completely transparent whilst still putting our best face forwards for marketing and client relationships. We changed the ethos policy but we also changed the way we do some things.
At Voice too, our ethical policy is at the heart of the international network of associates which we have recently created. In fact we realised that we could not define our network without shared ethics and values. In a sense, the ethical values are our brand – our collective personality. See the policy here
Recently I have also had to consider ethics in a negative way. A professional organisation of which I have been a member for more than 25 years has just behaved in a way which I find disgraceful and dishonest. I think the phrase ‘double-dealing’ describes it very well. I and several other members of this organisation are now preparing a hard-hitting complaint to the Board which could well result in the dismissal of a senior staff member/ The irony is that in the same week this came up they had published their own code of practice for their members and promptly breached several parts of it in their own dealings!
What I take from all of this is that it in these days of increased digital transparency and a diffusion of the control of information which big organisations used to take for granted it is essential to have a clear ethical position. Ethics are no longer a matter for the PR department; they are part of the personality and brand of any organisation or individual. It doesn’t matter if others disagree with your ethics – in fact if everyone can agree with it then it can only contain platitudes – but once you have it then you had better stick to it or your sins will find you out.