Do the Right Thing: A Conversation About Ethics

Although most people would say they behave ethically, the truth is that sometimes we don’t. The right thing to do isn’t always clear—but guidelines like the ASAE Standards of Conduct can point in the right direction.

Every year, interesting things happen in the association and business world that raise important questions in the seemingly ambiguous realm of ethics. From high-profile leadership crises like the departure of Lance Armstrong from the Livestrong Foundation to the dynamics of social media to the pressures of business competition, current events and trends reveal how ethical questions arise in almost every endeavor that organizations, and of course individuals, undertake every day.

Ethical questions arise in almost every endeavor that organizations, and of course individuals, undertake every day.

Fortunately, association executives and others in the association community have clear guideposts to follow in conducting business ethically: the ASAE Standards of Conduct, adopted by the ASAE Board in 2011. They comprise six core ethical standards:

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

Many people would say, “Of course, we all do those things every day.” But with a little honest reflection, most of us probably realize that this isn’t always the case. And that means ongoing education and discussion about important ethical issues is essential.

One of the roles of the ASAE Ethics Committee is to try to find ways to help educate the association industry about what these collected points mean, offer ways that members of the community can talk with others about their challenges, and provide access to the many resources ASAE and other organizations have to help them thoughtfully address ethical dilemmas they may face.

As we tackled that charge this year, many committee members shared stories related to the ethics of association management, and unsurprisingly, in several cases, there wasn’t clear agreement as to whether a particular activity or practice was indeed unethical. These conversations only underscored the need for a better understanding of the specifics of the ASAE Standards.

To that end, the committee created a series of five short videos in which committee members had conversations with association CEOs about each of the six core ethical standards. The first segment sets the stage:

Throughout this week, additional guest blog posts will accompany the other four videos and provide perspectives from others in the industry about what the core ethical standards mean to them and why ethics is important to us all.

One of our main goals for the video series, and for this special Associations Now Ethics Blog Week, is not only to convey information, but, more important, to foster dialogue. We encourage you to share your stories and questions in the comments below and elsewhere in the community. Also, the last video segment and Friday’s post will provide information about where you can go to get confidential advice or counsel.

We’re also looking at creating more videos in the coming year to dig into some of the more specific issues people in the association industry encounter in their professional lives. We encourage your feedback about the questions you’d like to see explored.

We hope you enjoy the videos and blog posts, and we look forward to the conversation.


(illustration by Ernie Smith; icon by Erin Gillaspy/The Noun Project)

George A. Breeden, CAE

By George A. Breeden, CAE

George A. Breeden, CAE, vice chair of the ASAE Ethics Committee, is executive IT advisor at Hartman Executive Advisors in Columbia, Maryland. MORE

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