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Opinion/Todd Cohen on change – Change rooted in ethics

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By Todd Cohen

Charities need to find value in their values.

In this age of scandal, with businesses forced to meet new federal accountability standards, some charities are opting to adopt those same standards.

But charities should avoid using a cookie-cutter ethics policy, says Steve Nickles, professor of law and management at Wake Forest University.

Ethics policies should reflect charities’ specific needs, Nickles told North Carolina higher-education development officers at a recent seminar organized by Wachovia Charitable Services.

And while it can help define an organization’s values, he says, an ethics policy also can shape the group’s business strategy, operations and relationships.

Good governance, Nickles says, is not simply regulatory but can be a “mechanism for recognizing opportunities” and managing risks.

The goal of any organization, he says, is to “create value for shareholders.”

Charities, like businesses, can use the process of thinking about their values to think about their mission, operations, strategy and goals.

If a charity integrates its basic values into how it works with its board, staff, volunteers, donors, customers, vendors and partners, it can become more than the sum of its parts, creating an efficient and productive network rooted in values that count.

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