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Independent Sector Annual Conference (Day One)

October 21, 2007

Is_logo_color_horizontal_2 Greetings from Southern California, where the temperature is in the 70s, the sky is sapphire blue, and the Santa Ana winds have sparked wildfires from San Diego to Malibu. I'm in Los Angeles for Independent Sector's annual conference, the theme of which is "Opportunity and Responsibility." Los Angeles County is home to more than 10 million people and 30,000 tax-exempt organizations, and in many ways is ground zero for the demographic, economic, and social trends that will shape American society over the coming decades.

As the wildfires that scorched Malibu and other locations overnight show, it's also a place whose abundant natural beauty masks an unforgiving and at times extreme physical environment. (For an entertaining critique of the human activity that has reshaped the Southern California  landscape, read Mike Davis's Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster.)

In conjunction with the conference, IS on Thursday released Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice: A Guide for Charities and Foundations, the result of an eighteen-month effort by the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector to develop principles of ethical conduct, accountability, and transparency that organizations in the nonprofit sector should aspire to and encourage other organizations to follow.

According to the Panel's Web site, the Guide "outlines 33 practices designed to support board members and staff leaders of every charitable organization as they work to improve their own operations." The principles are organized under four main categories -- legal compliance and public disclosure, effective governance, strong financial oversight, and responsible fundraising -- and include things such as:

  • "A charitable organization should have a formally adopted, written code of ethics with which all of its directors or trustees, staff, and volunteers are familiar and to which they adhere" (#2);
  • "A charitable organization should establish and implement procedures that enable individuals to come forward with information on illegal practices or violations of organizational policies. This "whistleblower" policy should specify that the organization will not retaliate against, and will protect, the confidentiality of, individuals who make good-faith reports" (#4);
  • "The board of a charitable organization should meet regularly enough to conduct its business and fulfill its duties" (#9);
  • "The board should review organizational and governing instruments no less frequently than every five years" (#18);
  • "A charitable organization should not provide loans (or the equivalent, such as loan guarantees, purchasing or transferring ownership of a residence or office, or relieving a debt or lease obligation) to directors, officers, or trustees" (#23); and
  • "Contributions must be used for purposes consistent with the donor's intent, whether as decsribed in the relevant solicitation materials or as specifically directed by the donor" (#28)

I'll have more to say about the Guide after I've had a chance to gauge its reception among conference attendees. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this thought: It should be considered a success to the extent that most people find at least one thing in it with which they disagree.

More tomorrow.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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