154: Conflict of Interest

Portuguese: 154: Conflito de Interesses

An important part of being an ethical officer is understanding Conflicts of Interest, what a Conflict of Interest is and how it impacts you both as a player and an officer.

What is a Conflict of Interest?

In general terms, a Conflict of Interest can be described one of two ways:

  • a situation which has the possibility or potential to undermine the objectivity and impartiality of a person because one of their interests (either personal self-interest, or a business/professional interest) is in possible opposition with another of their interests.  It means that there is a chance one interest will unduly affect a person’s ability to make objective decisions that are in the best interest of everyone involved in the situation.
  • a situation in which a person’s responsibility to one party or interest limits or impairs the person’s ability to discharge his/her responsibility to another party or interest.

Here are a couple of real-world examples that come up quite frequently in the nonprofit sector, due to nonprofit Boards of Directors/Trustees being made up of volunteers from the community – volunteers who have businesses and personal interests that may affect their judgment.

Example 1: A Trustee for Nonprofit Funder A also sits on the Board for Nonprofit Agency Z.  Nonprofit Z has applied to Nonprofit A for a grant, and all grant decisions must be ratified by the Board.  Because of this Trustee’s association with Nonprofit Z, he is in a Conflict of Interest.  It would be unethical and inappropriate for him to participate in the discussion of Nonprofit Z’s grant and the vote on whether to approve the grant for funding.

Example 2: A Trustee for Nonprofit Agency Z is a small business owner.  Nonprofit Agency Z is in need of the service that can potentially be provided by the Trustee’s business.  It would be inappropriate and unethical for her business to be in the running for providing the service, unless there are very good reasons otherwise (such as it being one of the few that provides the service and the nonprofit wants to look at several quotes/bids).  If her business is in the running, then it would be inappropriate and unethical of her to participate in the discussion of what business to use to provide that service, as well as the vote on which business Nonprofit Z will ultimately use to provide that service.

Note that in these situations, it is not that the Trustee has done anything wrong – far from it.  What they have done, by declaring and accepting their Conflict of Interest, is prevent any possibility of wrongdoing, as well as prevent the possibility of someone else perceiving wrongdoing (whether any existed or not).  The latter is just as important, if not more so, than the former.  In general, most Trustees/Directors are ethical, upstanding people who have no desire to engage in unfair business practices or make biased decisions.  Many of them are probably very capable of making objective decisions even when in a Conflict of Interest.  Even so, it is important that they not be involved, so that they can preserve their integrity, and the trust of the other Trustees/Directors sitting on the Board, as well as the general public that might look at the situation and believe their judgment was not impartial because they had a Conflict of Interest.

When situations like these arise, it is the responsibility of the person with the Conflict of Interest to speak up and recuse themselves from being involved in the situation or in any decision that must be made as a result of the situation.  In addition, most nonprofits have a Conflict of Interest Statement that all Trustees/Directors and Employees must read, complete and sign when they begin their tenure or employment. Here is a real-world example of a Conflict of Interest Statement.

Conflict of Interest Statement

Board of Trustees and [Organization] Staff Members

Certain activities sponsored by [Organization] may pose an actual or potential “conflict of interest” with a member of the [Organization] Board of Trustees or a [Organization] staff member.  The following will serve as a guide to the possible types of activities that might cause conflicts of interest and that should be fully reported on this statement and to the President/CEO or to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

  • To hold, directly or indirectly, a position or financial interest in any outside concern from which [Organization] secures goods or services.
  • To hold, directly or indirectly, a position or financial interest in any outside concerns that competes, directly or indirectly, with [Organization].
  • To render managerial or consultative services to any outside concern that does business with, or directly competes with, [Organization].
  • To accept excessive gifts, entertainment, or other excessive favors from any outside concern that does, or is seeking to do, business with, or is a competitor of [Organization].
  • To participate, directly or indirectly, in any matter involving [Organization] where the Trustee, employee, or a member of his/her family has a direct or indirect financial interest.

Full disclosure of any situation in doubt should be made so as to permit an impartial and objective determination.

Potential conflicts of interest (if none, please write “None”)

                                                                                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Signature                                                                                                             Date

Printed Name:                                                                                                 

How does the concept of Conflict of Interest translate into the MES environment, specifically as an officer?

In most cases, the situations an officer needs to rescue themselves from because of a Conflict of Interest will involve situations that have the involvement of the Officer’s spouse/significant other, family, or close friends.  In the case of Storytelers, it also includes situations where the Storyteller’s PC has some sort of involvement, influence or interest, or where the PCs involved have ties to the Storyteller’s PC. In the case of Coordinators, it also includes situations where decisions made will affect the officer’s personal prestige.

How do you determine whether you need to declare a Conflict of Interest and recuse yourself?

Knowing when to recuse yourself from storytelling or playing so as to avoid placing oneself in a Conflict of Interest is key.  The following are all situations where, if you find yourself in them as an Officer, you should state that you have a Conflict of Interest and ask that another Officer be called in. This is not an exhaustive list – if at any time you are uncertain as to whether or not you may be in a situation where you have a Conflict of Interest, you should assume the answer is “Yes” and act accordingly.
Storytellers:

  • Approving character applications for special items for your own PCs, or for PCs of your spouse/significant other, family members, room/housemates, and close friends.
  • Approving character applications for any PC which has the potential to be of benefit to your own PC (such as approving applications for your PC’s Sire or childer).
  • Adjudicating mechanics and rules in a contested, PvP (be that physical, social or political) scene in which your spouse/significant other, family members, room/housemates, or close friends are participating.  This is particularly true if the scene is a combat or killbox, where PC torpor/death is a possibility.
  • Handling investigations or appeals in which your spouse/significant other, family members, room/housemates, or close friends are involved in any way.
  • Using your authority and/or influence as an ST to place your own PC in an advantageous situation, or taking advantage of NPCs or in-game items that you created as an ST.
  • Playing your PC in a plotkit of which you have ST knowledge.

Coordinators:

  • Overseeing Prestige reviews for a spouse/significant other, family members, room/housemates, or close friends.
  • Awarding Prestige for a spouse/significant other, family members, room/housemates, or close friends.
  • Handling investigations or appeals in which your spouse/significant other, family members, room/housemates, or close friends are involved in any way.

Note: reading the above list may make you feel as though you cannot be an Officer for anyone other than strangers.  That is not the case.  While many of us think of all Cam members as “friends,” the term “close friends” would specifically refer to those friends with whom you spend a great deal of time outside of club activities or with whom you have a special relationship.

Some situations are very clear-cut; others less so.  In the latter cases, it is best to speak up, state that you might have a Conflict of Interest, and then speak to your supervising Officer before proceeding. Your supervising Officer may decide that there is not a Conflict of Interest and that you are free to continue whatever action it was that concerned you.  If concerns are raised regarding Conflict of Interest by another person, remember that you may have a Conflict of Interest when making a decisions about whether you have such. If this occurs, speak with your supervising officer to determine if a Conflict of Interest exists. However, note that talking to your supervising ST for one situation does not mean you should not talk to them if a similar situation comes up – each situation should be looked at and appraised independent of prior situations.

It’s important to make it clear that being in a situation in which you are in a Conflict of Interest and having to rescue yourself is not “bad” nor does it make you a bad or irresponsible, unethical person.  It is not accusing you of any wrongdoing whatsoever.  Quite the opposite.   In truth, it is a means of protecting you from such accusations – by voluntarily removing yourself from these sorts of situations, you are able to maintain the trust given to you by your players and fellow Storytellers and you prevent anyone from being able to raise suspicion or accusations against you.

When issues of Conflict of Interest happens, speak with your supervisor and determine if the Supervising officer or one of your assistants will handle the situation.