I make decisions for UO that impact several local businesses and non-profits. One such non-profit has invited me to join their board of directors. May I accept the offer?
Probably yes. A potential conflict of interest includes any decision or recommendation by a UO employee that could provide financial benefit or savings to the employee or a business with which the employee is associated. However, a non-profit is not a business as defined under the applicable state ethics law (ORS 244.020), when a public official is associated with it only as a member, board of director, or in an unpaid capacity. The definition of a potential conflict of interest under state law excludes membership in a board of directors of a 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofit.
Also, potential conflicts generally do not extend to any action that would affect everyone in a particular category the same. So, if you’re making decisions for UO that impact all non-profits in the same way, there is likely no conflict of interest.
Even if there’s no actual or potential conflict of interest, could this be considered the use of your official position for private financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment? Could there be an argument that by serving on the board, you (personally) make or save money? If so, consider: was the reason you got the position on the board because of your employment at UO? If there is financial gain (or avoidance of financial detriment), and the only reason you were invited to join the board was because of your position at UO, then accepting the invitation could be considered the prohibited use of your official position for private financial gain.
Even if there is no financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment, it may be wise for you to recuse yourself from decisions made at UO or actions taken by UO to directly benefit the non-profit. Consider, if the relationship is publicized, are there ways to reassure the public that UO’s conduct in relation to the board has been fair (addressing an apparent conflict of interest)? Might the non-profit get preferential UO time, treatment, or campus location for events? One option to continue your work for the organization is to create a management plan to distance you from having to make any decision that might benefit the non-profit. You should disclose the outside activity, and work with a supervisor to develop a management plan (that could be provided, in the event your decisions are subsequently challenged) that restrict you from having operational responsibilities that overlap, and from making decisions on behalf of UO regarding the non-profit.