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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Local Nonprofit CEO Leads with Ethics-First Approach

Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder

Erin Fox

Erin Fox is a journalism intern at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and the managing editor of The Santa Clara.

Chris Wilder’s parents were thrilled when he decided to be a hotel manager. It was the late 80s, he was a student at San Jose State, and it seemed like a safe career choice. However, things don’t always go according to plan. Less than a year after graduating, Wilder realized he was miserable in his position. After seeing an ad for a job with a nonprofit helping to clean-up local public schools, he decided to take the leap.

“I thought, ‘That's something I could wrap my heart around,’” Wilder said. “It's not just earning a paycheck, I would actually be serving my community. And I never looked back.”

Years later, Wilder is still in the social sector as the CEO of Valley Medical Center (VMC) Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for Silicon Valley’s largest and only public medical center. Since 2003, he has led the effort to raise more than $70 million for the hospital that serves anyone, regardless of the ability to pay.

Wilder is committed to the concept of employing ethical thinking within the Foundation, and it’s this focus which brought him to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Seeking a deeper understanding of ethical issues for nonprofit organizations, Wilder participated in the pilot of the Ethics Center’s Standards for Excellence® workshop.

The Center has partnered with the respected Standards for Excellence Institute to weave its own “Framework for Ethical Decision Making” into the training. The customized curriculum focuses on how organizations can work through a variety of ethical approaches to arrive at decisions that reflect their mission and values.

Wilder was so enthusiastic about the program that he, his board, and staff decided to seek full Standards for Excellence accreditation. The VMC Foundation is the first nonprofit to pursue accreditation from the Standards for Excellence Institute and is the only nonprofit in California to hold the resulting “Seal of Excellence.”

When Wilder learned about the additional accreditation, he went to the Foundation’s Board of Directors and said the Board Chair at the time put it best when he said they should pursue the accreditation not because it would make them look good, but because it was the right thing to do.   

“We have only one product at the end of the day, and that product is trust. Ethics is about what you do when you know you can get away with it,” Wilder added. “We have this responsibility to reflect the values of the hospital and maintain that standard of caring for the community.”

“Chris is an extraordinary leader. It didn't surprise me that he and his colleagues were the first to accomplish the additional accreditation,” said Joan Harrington, assistant director of Social Sector Ethics at the Center. “He's very serious about the overall perception of the nonprofit sector and committed to ensuring his organization behaves ethically.”

According to Harrington, there are currently six nonprofits undergoing the additional accreditation process, and there will be more coming soon based on the Center’s most recent training.

The next Clinic Series training, which offers a deep dive into Standards for Excellence and step-by-step guidelines to achieve a responsibly governed organization, will take place on March 14 and 15.

Feb 12, 2019

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