NCVO Developing a Code of Ethics for Charitable Organisations

The UK’s National Council for Voluntary Organisations, NCVO, has begun a process of consultation on a draft code of ethics for organisations in the charity sector. The draft has been drawn up with reference to a range of existing codes of conduct and ethical principles, including the Nolan Principles of Public Life and the NHS Constitution for England. The aim of the code is to ‘provide a framework for charities to review their own policies and practice’ and would apply to:

  • Safeguarding
  • Conduct within charities
  • Safe employment practices
  • Dignity in the workplace
  • Treating all individuals with respect.
  • Charities will decide for themselves, on a voluntary basis, whether they wish to adopt or endorse the code of ethics once consultation is complete.

The timing of the NCVO’s consultation follows the Charity Commission’s March summit to discuss the safeguarding challenges that domestic charities face and how these can be addressed. This prompted the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, ACEVO, to commission the report, ‘Leading with values, creating a safe organisational culture’, whose publication coincides with NCVO’s consultation launch.

By consulting on a code of ethics for the entire UK charity sector, it may be possible to reach a consensus on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviours within charitable organisations. It is important to remember that these may differ from other industries, where a standard of personal ethics may be subject to less scrutiny. It may also help to establish a clearer and safer path for reporting misconduct and at the very least, should provide an opportunity for organisations to handle these issues from a point of ethical consensus. The success of NCVO’s consultation depends on finding points of ethical best practice, which speak to the challenges faced by all charities, irrespective of size, area of operation and charitable focus. By taking part in the consultation, charities have an opportunity to help in deciding these points of best practice and shape the code in a way that speaks to the challenges they all face.

Given that signing up to the code will be voluntary, it is unclear, however, the extent to which such a code of ethics could improve working conditions in the charity sector over the long term. Furthermore, if the code is only adopted by a small number of organisations, it may come function as an advisory tool rather than a powerful framework for promoting best practice across the entire industry.

In the meantime, therefore, it is important the organisations establish and stick to their own ethical guidelines and continue to cultivate clear and safe paths for abuses to be reported and whistleblowers to be protected.

Consultation on the NCVO’s proposed code of ethics ends on 26th September 2018. Responses can be sent to and information can be found at:

If you have any questions or would like any advice about establishing ethical guidelines for your organisation, please contact us.

Thank you to Felix Tambling for his research for this article.


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