Associations have many obligations that they are expected to meet by people within and outside the organisation. Some obligations are legal requirements such as providing information to the Office of Fair Trading, the Australian Taxation Office or funding bodies. Other obligations are based on the organisation's values and can be used as a guide for putting these values into practice.

What is a code of ethics?

Some organisations develop written guidelines or a code of ethics so that everyone has a clear understanding of what is expected, including people outside the organisation. If this code is developed by the management committee and staff, it is more likely to be relevant and useful.

Whilst people will not always have the same values, it is important that everyone can agree on a code of ethics that describes how the organisation will be managed and how services will be provided. A code of ethics provides a general understanding of the ethical or moral responsibilities that the management committee and staff are expected to meet while they are working for the organisation.

Under a code of ethics, paid staff, volunteers and management committee members might be expected to respect other staff, behave honestly and work for the benefit of the organisation and its clients. The code of ethics might also include expectations about the way that staff provide services to clients and how members of the management committee make decisions for the organisation.

What is a code of conduct?

Whilst the code of ethics will provide everyone with an understanding of the general guidelines, it may also be beneficial to develop a code of conduct or policies that describe how people are expected to behave. An example could be that staff and management committee members do not let their personal and financial interests interfere with their responsibilities to the organisation. If someone could act in their own interest rather than those of the organisation, it is as a conflict of interest.

The code of conduct or policies may stipulate that management committee members and/or staff should be open about any possible conflict of interest. Developing procedures to follow for each policy is also a good idea. For example, if the management committee or group that is responsible for making decisions about the issue decides that there is a real conflict of interest, the person might not be able to be involved in the discussion or decision-making.

By developing codes of ethics and conduct, it is clear to everyone within the organisation what is expected and will help to avoid conflict. It will also be clear to your clients, funding bodies and others external to the organisation that you are operating fairly and honestly.

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