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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A Museum Meets a Controversial Employer

Anita Varma

Anita Varma is the assistant director of Social Sector Ethics as well as Journalism & Media Ethics.

Consider the case below. Apply the framework to reach a decision about whether you would accept the gift in question. Then, explain how you would justify your decision to stakeholders. 

A nonprofit art museum in a major metropolitan area in the US is looking at mid-year donations, and grows concerned that they are tracking far behind their annual goal. For the past few years, including the current year, they’ve seen donations dwindle due to other museums and arts-focused nonprofits opening in the area. This means that the museum will likely need to shrink their staff, and that will leave no one to focus on growing the museum’s social media presence. 

You are a senior member of the staff, and you listen to your team’s concerns about how to build new relationships with donors in an increasingly saturated space. After the meeting, you go back to your office to strategize. Just then, you notice a message from a donor who is offering to provide full support for two full-time staff members, as well as a part-time employee for social media. This couldn’t be more fortuitous, you think, and you begin to look into who the donor is.

A quick Internet search reveals that the donor’s family has been recently accused of using child labor overseas, and not paying adult workers a living wage. The donor did not mention their family in the email offering a gift, and did not provide context about where the gift would come from. The donor only said that they have regularly visited the museum, and that they wish to support the museum’s mission to bring modern art to the community.

The investigation into accusations against the donor’s family related to labor conditions is ongoing, you read. No one in the donor’s family has admitted or denied the accusations as of today.

Mar 19, 2020


For more information, please contact:

Joan Harrington
Director, Social Sector Ethics

More on Social Sector Ethics