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Social Sector Ethics

Nonprofit Ethics

Center Advisory Boardmember Ervie Smith, Sobrato Foundation CEO Rick Williams, Center Leadership Ethics Director Ann Skeet, and Wilson Sonsini General Counsel Mark Parnes serve on a panel on "Ethical Dilemmas of Nonprofits."

Concern for others. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics imagines a world where such concern drives all important decisions. Many nonprofit organizations, volunteers, foundations, philanthropists, consultants and advisors share this vision as an aspect of the work they do in the social sector.

The social sector is a fascinating realm.  Nonprofit organizations are complex animals by design, with a “triple bottom line”: traditional performance measures, returns to social goods, and care for the environment. Staff and volunteers are blended in management and governance roles. As Evelyn Brody writes in the Fordham Law Review, “Board members, in both business and nonprofit corporations, are part-timers, often volunteers, serving for a variety of altruistic, social, and even selfish reasons, and (for the outside directors) not likely to be technically skilled in the business of the enterprise.” Donors give money for investment and distribution, and expect transparency to match their generosity.  Philanthropists and foundations have their own goals they work to achieve within the sector.

In this complex environment, organizations with ethical cultures have the best chance to build trust and prosper long term. We enter our work in social sector ethics with the aim of helping the organizations that serve it fulfill their missions and thrive.

Social Sector Ethics Cases

    The Giving Code

    Alexa Cortes Culwell, author of The Giving Code, shares her holistic portrait of Silicon Valley’s nonprofit and philanthropy ecosystems.

    Selected Social Sector Articles