Ask the Ethicist: How Do I Speak Up and Enact Change?


By Apra Ethics & Compliance Committee

Dear Ethicist,

I have been working at a new prospect development shop where I am the solo researcher. Since starting here, I have become aware of some questionable ethical practices. I try to speak up about these issues but my voice isn’t heard. This is very frustrating because my colleagues continue with these practices and no one seems to care. I have no authority over them, and I am on the bottom of the food chain. I would like to change these practices but I don’t know how to go about it. How do I effectively talk about ethical behavior within the office?


Lone Researcher

Dear Lone Researcher,

We feel your frustration, but take a breather! First, we applaud you for speaking up and trying to enact change. We know how hard and uncomfortable that can be, especially when the folks involved don’t report to you. Keep in mind, handling unethical practices can be tricky regardless of reporting line. Unethical practices are not only alarming, but can cause problems down the road. Imagine what a headache it would be if your donors found out their information wasn’t being handled properly and/or had been unethically sourced!

As you approach talking about ethics with your colleagues, here are some actions you can take.

  1. Start with your own behaviors and practices. Since you can’t correct the issue by decree, your first step is to live by best ethical practices. You can exhibit the norms you would like to see, which it sounds like you are doing. Good job! Feel free to review Apra’s Statement of Ethics on what the profession’s best ethical behaviors are and how you can apply them to your position.
  2. Seek senior leadership input and act accordingly. If senior leadership backs your efforts, your colleagues will see that is a priority for your organization, not just your pet project.
  3. Educate. Teach your team about the meaning of ethics and how they influence the work of the organization and everyone in it. Provide them with examples on what good ethics look like and what to look out for. Distribute a weekly “latest in prospect development” internal e-newsletter which includes “ripped from the headlines” ethical situations along with your own department’s policies (yes, even a solo researcher is part of a department!) and what the best practice truly is.
  4. Create a code of conduct for the team. Establish standards and procedures on how your team will prevent ethical breaches and handle them when they arise. This will help create a new cultural norm.
  5. Talk openly and be transparent with each other. And don’t rationalize away unethical behaviors or situations. Circulate Apra’s Ask the Ethicist columns to show how your own professional association approaches these situations.
  6. Promote good ethical behavior and don’t be a bystander.

By following good ethical behaviors, you are mitigating risk for your organization and improving your relationship with colleagues as well as positively impacting your organization’s relationships with its supporters. Ultimately, well-thought ethical practices and behaviors will keep you out of the news.


The Ethicist


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