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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Thinking about Nonprofit Ethics



Shaping a new ethics program

Ann Skeet

We want to know what you think about nonprofit ethics.  As we introduce programming about nonprofits at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, we’re conducting a survey to gather views from a wide variety of participants, including both those who work in the nonprofit area and those who do not.  

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is multi-disciplinary.  One of the great returns of working in such a place is that the expertise of my colleagues working in other areas feeds the work I do in leadership, business, and now nonprofits.  Many issues touch multiple sectors and disciplines and I can exchange ideas and resources with, for example, my government ethics colleague, Hana Callaghan, when considering the role corporations have begun to take in social issues or my colleague, Irina Raicu, who studies internet ethics, when considering the obligations organizations have to protect customers’ data.

Increasingly, sectors are bleeding together, and the issues in one affect the outcomes in another.  Supreme Court rulings on Hobby Lobby and Citizens United are additional examples that the public and private sector often have issues to sort out.

This is also true of the nonprofit sector, social sector, third sector, world of NGOs—whatever name you know it by.   There are increasingly complex intersections with the public and business sectors.  With the establishment of B corps, it’s possible to be a little bit business and a little bit nonprofit, if you will.  More and more is written about “philanthropcapitalism”—the influence that major philanthropists have on public policy outside of a democratic process (to say nothing of the taxes they are not paying to support public works).  With this complexity comes new challenges.

Some of the issues that have called for thoughtfulness in the sector are less systemic.  How each nonprofit establishes itself and its governance, gathers contributed time and money to do its work, and serves its clients are other areas where people must carefully consider how to define the “right” thing to do.

Whether you are involved in nonprofits or not, we’d really appreciate your reaction to some of the issues facing the sector. If you are interested, please complete a very brief survey.  We’re ready to think together. We’ll use your responses to help us shape our new program.

Photo credit: Tetra Images - Getty Images

May 5, 2016

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