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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Social Sector Ethics Launches “Ethical Gift Acceptance for Nonprofit Organizations”

Social Sector Ethics Launches “Ethical Gift Acceptance for Nonprofit Organizations”

New resources, cases, and training opportunities available to all nonprofit organizations.

The Social Sector Ethics Program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics (Santa Clara University) has launched a new set of timely resources for nonprofit organizations who rely on charitable donors. “Ethical Gift Acceptance for Nonprofit Organizations” provides guidance on how to assess gifts from potentially controversial donors, cases to work through with teams, and a set of additional readings on how controversial donors can affect nonprofit organizations.

Due to the downturn in giving across the social sector, many nonprofits are fervently seeking funds to continue providing services. In such a high-pressure environment, nonprofits may be tempted to accept funds from any donor. Nonprofits still need to be prepared to justify their decisions, Social Sector Ethics Director Joan Harrington explained.

“The pressure on nonprofits right now to raise money is intense,” Harrington said. “But controversial donors often cause unwanted attention among nonprofit stakeholders, including clients, donors, staff, and the public, and ultimately hurt the nonprofit's mission. If organizations decide to take money from controversial donors, they should follow specific guidelines so they may explain to their stakeholders how they made their decisions.”

The Markkula Center’s Social Sector Ethics program team began researching controversial donors after controversies arose related to Jeffrey Epstein and the Sackler family. “There was little guidance available to those organizations who sought a more robust and ethical gift acceptance policy,” Harrington recalled.

“Ethical gift acceptance is relevant to nonprofits of all sizes,” assistant director of Social Sector Ethics Anita Varma added. “There are not consistent standards across the sector for folks in external relations, which makes ethical reasoning even more crucial. We hope these materials can offer a more systematic approach that all organizations engaged in fundraising can utilize.”

Harrington and Varma are available for individual consultation and group training. To schedule a consultation or training, please contact



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