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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

All About Ethics Blog

How ethical is your nonprofit

How ethical is your nonprofit

Ethical Decision-Making in Your Nonprofit

Using the mission to guide the organization

Holiday giving time brings increased scrutiny.

How Ethical is Your Nonprofit?

It’s the holiday season, typically a time of increased giving to nonprofits, and often a time of increased scrutiny.  This time of year brings stories of nonprofits doing wrong: money misdirected or stolen, failed programs, excessive compensation, and more.

Although nonprofits are sometimes involved in wrongdoing, these stories of extreme, unethical behavior are more the exception than the rule.  Scandals make readable headlines but these bad acts are not representative of the majority of the social sector.

Although scandals are the exception, nonprofits have a broad ethical obligation to the public, donors, and clients.  Nonprofits are subsidized by the public as tax-exempt organizations accepting deductible contributions. Donors part with hard earned money to support nonprofit work. Clients depend on the services promised by nonprofits.  So we should all be focused on how nonprofits can behave ethically in day to day operations and in ordinary decision-making.

One powerful tool: the nonprofit mission.  A focused, clear, achievable mission should be used to guide the organization in ethical decision-making.  For decisions on program, finance, and operations, a nonprofit should ask: Is this decision consistent with the mission and values of my organization?

Learning how to use the nonprofit mission to guide ethical decision-making and behavior is central to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics new Standards for Excellence training program.  This program is for nonprofits, foundations, educational institutions, and others in the social sector space.  Built on a national program and customized with the Center’s Framework for Ethical Decision-Making, this comprehensive training consists of a two-day clinic and shorter sessions focused on single topics. Our next clinic takes place January 19 and February 9.  For more information or to register for this clinic, click here





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