The Nonprofit Ethics Survey: Assessing Organizational Culture and Climate

The Nonprofit Ethics Survey: Assessing Organizational Culture and Climate

Audrey Barrett (University of San Diego, USA) and Fred Galloway (University of San Diego, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2172-5.ch004
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The Nonprofit Ethics Survey serves as the only empirically supported survey instrument specifically designed for nonprofit organizations to assess their ethical culture. Development of the instrument occurred through the use of principal components analysis conducted on a sample of 530 nonprofit affiliates. The results of the analysis yielded six parsimonious scales integral to assessing nonprofit ethics. To evaluate the internal reliability of each scale a measure of Cronbach’s Alpha was also calculated. The alpha coefficients ranged from 0.86 - 0.94, indicating the survey provides a reliable means of measuring the constructs integral to assessing organizational ethics in nonprofit agencies. The creation of a statistically sound instrument designed for use with nonprofit organizations ensures that nonprofit leaders have the needed tools to accurately self-assess.
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The Nonprofit Ethics Survey serves as the only empirically supported survey instrument developed exclusively for nonprofit organizations to conduct an assessment of their ethical culture. The survey provides an organizational-level evaluation yielding a three-hundred sixty degree view capable of identifying disparities between the ethical practices of members at different levels of the organization (e.g., between board members and line staff). The benefit of the Nonprofit Ethics Survey to nonprofit leaders cannot be overemphasized as ethics and the perception of having an ethical organization are intricately linked to the viability of nonprofit agencies (Gregorian, 2004). This linkage has long been intuitively known; however, the recent sector-wide meltdown in donor giving precipitated by the ethical lapses of a few large nonprofits provides a potent reminder (Light, 2006).

The significance of having a valid and reliable instrument designed specifically for use with nonprofit organizations serves as an additional point needing to be underscored. For example, while the majority of existing work on nonprofit ethics focuses on compliance and resides in the practitioner literature, the introduction of the Nonprofit Ethics Survey will help solve a number of important contemporary assessment problems, including the alignment problem that exists when instruments from the for-profit or governmental sectors are inappropriately used in assessing the ethical health of non-profits (Hansmann, 1980 as cited in Steinberg, 2006; and Steinberg, 2006). While this practice has become increasingly common, a growing body of evidence suggests that the tools and best practices effective in other sectors do not directly translate to the third sector (Lohmann, 2007; Mulligan, 2007; Prewitt, 2006), and more importantly, may cause real harm to the nonprofit and its ability to fulfill its mission. For these varied reasons the presence of an empirically supported instrument in the nonprofit literature serves to fill a long unmet need.

The design of the Nonprofit Ethics Survey as an organizational-level assessment tool facilitates the instruments ability to provide users with a comprehensive picture of ethical health. This serves as critical given that research clearly demonstrates that culture wields a stronger effect over peoples’ actions than policy (Brown & Trevino, 2006; Milgram, 1963, 1974; Hemmelgarn, Glissen, and James, 2006; Seligson & Choi, 2006; Trevino et al., 1998; Zimbardo, 2007), and that the culture of an organization starts with its leadership (Ethics Resource Center, 2008). Thus by making the entire organization the unit of analysis, not solely the senior management or board of directors, a measure of intended culture (the tone the board and senior management intends to set) can be compared to actual culture (the perceptions of ethics at all levels of the organization), illuminating the strengths and weaknesses in ethical culture and current practices.

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