Class notes - week five, Spring 2018

I was a couple minutes late walking into class as the professor talked about our readings on ethics. After a brief overview of the topic, he turned to addressing the paper due that night. What he really wants is for us to tell him what we’re learning. Don’t use space in the paper to regurgitate and summarize the readings. Don’t write what you think someone wants to see to give you a good grade, write an analysis instead.

An email had gone out from our teaching assistant that morning, based on draft essays they wanted to encourage everyone to do less summary and more analysis. When I read that at my desk at work mid-morning I thought about all of the reading summaries incorporated in my essay and laughed, then took another sip of coffee. I had stayed up late the night before finishing the paper and there’s no time in my work day for another rewrite.

I thought about my writing process. This blog is where I organize course reading outlines, which I re-read in context of the assignment to cull a more specific outline of relevant materials, to then piece together in my paper. I structure it into a narrative and incorporate analysis, but the work is ultimately built on research. If that’s the wrong process then I’ve been wasting a hell of a lot of time. But then I think, this is my process. It’s how I’ve challenged myself to complete every reading and break down the learnings in them, and I feel like it’s been effective way for me to master the subject matter.

So I felt good about this paper. I had managed to catch up on all of my notes and reading summaries a couple days prior to sitting down to write it, got it done the night before it was due, and had the following day to mull it over while my lovely spouse used part of her day off to proofread and help refine the narrative. Despite cautions about de-emphasizing summary I felt like I had learned from the exercise, and that’s why I’m here.

As class started that night my spouse texted that she was feeling ill, and I went home at the break to take over bathtime and bedtime with our child. I reached out to a classmate to ask for notes from the second half of class. He told me there was a group activity that involved looking at what elements were included from each of the readings, discussion of why organizations included and emphasized different areas and who their target audiences were for the accountability documents. The elements listed on the activity form look familiar from the week’s reading summaries, I remember thinking when summarizing the accountability checklists that it was a lot of content I wouldn’t use right away (i.e. incorporate into a paper) but those summaries might be really valuable to reference someday.

I still need to write the client memo from the stakeholder analysis workshop a couple weeks ago. I wanted to get this week’s paper done first, then hoped to work on it this weekend but that got pre-empted by focusing on a data conversion sprint for work. The due date is this Friday. And as I think about how I’ll find time to complete that, I look at the clock and the time I’m spending writing this blog post. Priorities.

Here is the lecture outline from last week’s class:

  • For ethics there is no one single point of view or orthodox method to follow
  • Ethics and morals speak to the values of the person, organization, society
  • Ethics equip leaders with a habit of mind. What are we approaching, how can I bring my ethics and values to the decision I’m making?
  • Difference between values and ethics. Values come from your culture
  • A clumsy way of describing value judgements - analogy of a restaurant, you often know within the first 5 minutes (or the first couple bites of food) whether this is a place you like and will come back to.
  • Ethics are guidelines for conduct which addresses morality. Rules that govern the behavior of the person.
  • On the other hand, values refer to the beliefs that a person has a preference for. Values can change over time, as we age and grow.
  • When you go to work, don’t necessarily check your personal values at the door.
  • If workplace values are a mismatch, or something in the culture doesn’t sit right, might describe that as a “bad fit”
  • Difference between ethics and laws - some people conflate these things, they are not the same
    • Ethics govern what is good, bad, right, wrong in a given situation
    • Laws are a lot more limited, usually in the negative - proscribe what can not be done
  • Complying with the law usually involves not doing something (negative), ethics involve doing something (positive)
  • Many people’s ethics and morals tell them what is the right thing to do, other people believe they have no obligation but to act within the bounds of the law
  • Lying, for instance, is unethical but usually not illegal
  • Why do we care about ethics? It’s tied to decision making, also tied to accountability and maintaining the public trust.
  • If you don’t have the public’s trust, you won’t have the access to referrals, support, staff that you need to survive.
  • Ethics scandals never take a day off, and nonprofits are not immune to it
  • Ethics really became part of the course work and a field of study after Watergate scandal in the 1970s
  • Another big buzz phrase in nonprofits is transparency.
  • Conflicts of interest and self-dealing - board members serve on your board, but maybe they have a separate business relationship with you. If that’s the case, declare it, recuse from relevant discussions
  • Constantly raise the issue as a means of raising awareness.
  • Private inurement is both unethical and illegal
  • Donors and members have another set of privacy issues to respect and pay attention to. Need to circle back to people for ongoing permission to contact them, use their image, etc.
  • Fundraising issues are another ethical sticky area. Truthfulness and responsible stewardship of donor dollars.
  • Never pay a fundraiser a percentage of the money raised
  • Treating volunteers and employees with respect. How many orgs have a code of ethics or a code of values for employees to follow. People generally know what respect (or disrespect) feels like when they encounter it.
  • Section on the performance review form to evaluate living the organization’s values
  • Difference between lobbying and doing advocacy work. Campaigning for elected officials is another matter entirely.
  • Ethical dilemmas - there’s no real universal way that we’ve agreed on to address a given issue. Employees come from different backgrounds, and there may be differences of opinion
  • Ethics is not compliance with the issues of the day
  • “A moral principle is not a command to act in a specific way, it is a tool to help determine the right course of action in a given situation” (John Dewey?)
  • Almost always in management, situational ethics is the right keyword search to find pertinent information
  • Ethics has been referred to as:
    • Obedience to the unenforceable
    • The science of conduct
Written on February 21, 2018