Feeling Less Conflicted About Conflicts of Interest

As the year comes to a close and you start attending parties hosted by different non-profit organizations, it may appear that the same people seem to be involved with every non-profit organization in town. With the flurry of fund raising appeals that are made this time of year, you may rightly wonder how these people balance their advocacy among all the groups with whom they are involved. Someone must be getting the short shrift, right?

It is with those types of questions in mind that I recently wrote a piece on ArtsHacker covering a conflict of interest article that appeared on Non-Profit Quarterly (NPQ).

There were a couple points I took away from the NPQ article by David Renz:

  • Where US conflict of interest rules address private benefit and financial gain, European rules take a broader view encompassing conflicting influences associated with being involved with many groups as in my example.
  • Not all conflicts of interests are equally severe. Openly recognizing, evaluating and accepting the risks involved can be beneficial to a non-profit organization.
  • It isn’t enough for a person to abstain from voting on an issue with which they are involved, they must abstain from exerting influence on others. And the organization must actively guard against the exercise of said influence
  • Disclosures of conflict should be made on an ongoing basis to the whole board rather than an annual ritual to be filed away or evaluated separately by an individual or small committee. In my mind, this contributes to organizational culture that has a constructive and educated understanding of conflicts of interest.
  • As is the case with policies and bylaws, don’t copy yours from another organization or the IRS boilerplate. Create a conflict of interest policy that meets the particular needs of your organization.

This post is an abridged version of my ArtsHacker post which only excerpted part of the excellent NPQ article. If your New Year’s resolutions are going to include taking a pro-active, less anxiety-driven approach to conflicts of interest, it may be worth taking a deeper look at both.


Toward Crafting Better Conflict Of Interest Policy And Practice

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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