Rooting out Cronyism and Nepotism in an Association

As long as humans have organized themselves into formal groups, there has been the problem of biased promotion of certain individuals. What are the causes of cronyism and nepotism in an association, and how can you root them out? Read on for a breakdown of these classic challenges.

cronyism and nepotism in an association

Do you have cronyism or nepotism in your association?

Difficult to Define

Sometimes cronyism and nepotism are so subtle at an organization, they are actually difficult to detect. A program director hires his nephew to help with a special event. A board member hears the need for a graphic designer and recommends his neighbor. Often, these acts are done in a spirit of helpfulness and innocence. It is only natural that often the people we know who could do various work are our friends and relatives. So what’s the big deal?

The definition of nepotism and cronyism is “the practice of hiring or conferring advantages at work on family members or friends, especially by people in power.” It’s easy to see how this can take a more malevolent turn pretty quickly. Additionally, the effects of cronyism in an association can be lasting and difficult to rectify. For that reason, it’s imperative that leadership stay vigilant.

RELATED: Avoid Board Member Conflicts of Interest with These Tips

A Situation Ripe for Problems

Even if the cronyism or nepotism in an association is accidental, there are a number of risks at play. With the best of intentions, the following issues must be considered about that friend or family member:

  • Could there be a better-qualified candidate, if you looked objectively?
  • Will you be able to offer constructive feedback to someone who is protected by a powerful connection? What if you needed to terminate them?
  • Work ethic and morale at your association will inevitably suffer, if advancement is seen as more political than based on merit.
  • Do internal alliances and biases prevent your staff from making decisions in an objective way?
  • Drawing people from the same pools of friends and family hampers the association’s ability to problem solve and see multiple perspectives.

How to Guard Against Nepotism in an Association

Luckily, being aware of the potential problem is half the battle. Simply having the conversation with your board and making provisions for anti-nepotism clauses in your bylaws sets the stage for ethical dealings. Further, having this clause in your bylaws lets new board members know up front that your association has an expectation for transparent. Because this issue can be so subtle, you may want to provide some examples and ongoing education. What looks like cronyism to one person may seem like “networking” to another. Finally, make sure the governance committee is in agreement on these issues and has a clear plan for dealing with ethical questions.

An Ongoing Challenge

As we said above, as long as people have banded together to accomplish something, cronyism in an association is a risk. It isn’t likely to go completely away any time soon. It is important that make the safeguards as built-in as possible. One way to do that is to have a formal process for evaluating vendors, employees, and other contractors. Having every candidate go through the same screening protects your association from both internal and external confusion. It’s always a good idea to define terms, expectations, and protocols to leave as little room for manipulation as possible.

RELATED: Indiana Society of Association Executives Case Study

Nepotism and Cronyinsm Aren’t a Given

You’ve worked hard to develop an organization that supports members and does important work. Don’t let a little accidental favoritism creep in and muddy the waters! With a little intention and proactivity, you can safeguard your association from nepotism and cronyism, and enjoy the reputation your hard work has earned.

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