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by Kyle Farmer, CAE, KCSAE President-Elect

I’m confident if any of us took a straw poll around our offices we would be hard-pressed to find a single person that did not agree with the phrase “Acting ethically is important.” If we do find that person, it might be time for a deeper conversation about their continued role with your organization! On the flip side, I bet we would struggle to find anyone with a strong answer to the question, “Why are ethics important?” We all intuitively understands that ethics are important, but we rarely spend much time talking about why that is the case.

Ethics and ethical decision-making create an environment where individuals and organizations “do the right thing” in the face of making difficult and potentially controversial decisions. In this time of pervasive social media and a 24-hour news cycle, ethics have become even more important. A single unethical decision can create a firestorm of criticism and negative public imagery for an association, the association’s staff, and its members. Furthermore, promoting ethics within your association and your workplace promotes teamwork and cooperation, protects association assets, creates a positive workplace culture, and minimizes both financial and legal liabilities. The concept of ethics essentially touches every corner of our associations and how do business.

In recognition of the importance of ethics, the ASAE created a Standards of Conduct that is an aspirational set of standards for all ASAE members to strive to uphold. Last updated in September of 2022, these ethical standards help members “promote the goal of transforming society for the better.” The preamble to the Standards of Conduct identifies six aspirational ethical concepts: respect; responsibility; justice and fairness; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and honesty.

Each of these ethical concepts is more thoroughly defined in the Standards of Conduct policy. I won’t take the time to go through each of the definitions (you can find them and the entire Standards of Conduct here), but I do want to highlight their definition of respect. The document defines respect as “demonstrating a high regard for one’s self, others, and the resources entrusted to them.” It goes on to say that “an environment of respect engenders trust, confidence, and performance excellence by fostering mutual cooperation – an environment where diverse perspectives, identities, and views are encouraged and valued.”

While we could ask 50 people to define respect and get 50 varying responses, I think ASAE’s definition gets to the core of ethics. Respecting yourself and others, taking care of the resources entrusted to your care, and fostering an environment that embraces and strengthens diverse perspectives and ideas is the basis for an organization that does the right thing.

The Standards of Conduct also includes seven Core Ethical Standards that build upon the six aspirational concepts in the preamble. As an ASAE member, one should aspire to:

  1. Respect and uphold public laws that govern one’s work
  2. Champion diversity, equity, and inclusion
  3. Be honest in conducting the member’s business
  4. Respect the confidentiality of information gained through one’s work
  5. Act fairly
  6. Foster an ethical culture through one’s work
  7. Take responsibility for one’s conduct

The Standards of Conduct document goes on to further break down the Core Ethical Standards based on ASAE member type. While some expectations span all member types, others are specific to association professionals/executives, consultants, or industry partners.

For instance, under the standard of “Respect the confidentiality of information gained through one’s work” association professionals and executives are expected to “protect confidential information, including the information that is in the possession of staff or volunteers whose service to the association is ending” while consultants and industry partners are expected to “protect confidential information, services and products, including after the professional relationship has ended.”

The ASAE Ethics Committee also created an Ethics Toolkit that helps members navigate the Standards of Conduct and provides sample policies to address workplace, association-sponsored events, and third-party relationships. The Ethics Toolkit, which can be found on the ASAE website,  is a great tool to spark conversation within your association when discussing your own internal code of conduct and related policies.

KCSAE will be hosting a member of the ASAE Ethics Commission responsible for the creation of the Ethics Toolkit (and a current ASAE board member) at our February educational event. Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD, CAE will join us to talk about the importance of ethics for modern day associations and the professionals who run them. In yet another commitment to the importance of ethics in the association management space, the renewal requirements for the CAE certification were amended in 2020 to include the completion of at least one credit focused on ethics. Nabil’s session is designed to meet that ethics requirement, so I hope to have a full house at the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association on January 18, 2023.

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