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Nonprofit Ethics

A Jan. 19 gathering gives nonprofit leaders a unique two-day forum for dealing with ethical and operational challenges for organizations that seek to do good in the world.

A Jan. 19 gathering gives nonprofit leaders a unique two-day forum for dealing with ethical and operational challenges for organizations that seek to do good in the world. 

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Jan. 5, 2018—Many people join nonprofit institutions to do good in the world: to deliver health care to developing countries, to bring clean water to children, or solar power to those struggling because they live off the grid.

But leaders of nonprofits are often surprised to find that there are a large number of ethical dilemmas that must be navigated as the organization seeks to raise money, attract supporters, and identify beneficiaries. 

For instance, nonprofit leaders sometimes encounter benefactors who want to dictate how the nonprofit spends the funds — contrary to policy. Or if a nonprofit receives a large donation from a business such as a local printer, there can be considerable pressure to use them as a vendor, even if their prices aren’t competitive.

Now, leaders of nonprofits have a place to go to address such ethical issues in a focused and collegial atmosphere— the Social Sector Ethics Program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Building on guidelines established by the Standards for Excellence® Institute, which focuses  on nonprofit transparency and accountability, the Ethics Center offers a series of trainings and a two-day workshop to help leaders focus on a unique combination of ethics, legal standards and best practices for various aspects of their nonprofits. Those aspects include:

  • Mission, strategy, and evaluation.
  • Leadership at the board, staff and volunteer levels
  • Finance and operations
  • Resource development
  • Public awareness, engagement, and advocacy.

The Ethics Center is the Institute’s first “replication partner” west of the Mississippi to bring the full complement of Standards for Excellence educational resources, expertise, and training to the region’s nonprofit community and others connected to Santa Clara University.

The program’s pilot, in May of 2017,  was introduced in partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which identified nonprofit executives, board members and philanthropists to take the pilot training.

The next two-day workshop starts January 19. Although media are not permitted into the sessions, leaders of the forum are available to discuss the myriad issues at stake, and how the five ethical ways of viewing issues -- known as the Framework for Ethical Decision Making-- can help nonprofit leaders navigate a wide array of potential ethical pitfalls.

Joan Harrington, assistant director of social sector ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, has seen firsthand that just because an organization has an altruistic mission doesn’t mean the decisions will all be ethical.  In her years as a counselor to nonprofits, she recalls that one time a nonprofit received a generous donation offer from a local business —on the condition that the nonprofit plaster the business’s name all over its marketing materials.

“Putting the business name on its materials was contrary to the nonprofit’s mission statement, and it also risked alienating other would-be donors,” said Harrington, who counseled the company to decline.

Participants in the program have the option of becoming a Partner in Learning Community member, giving them access to an online portal for ongoing resources, training opportunities, and member support.

 About Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University 
Founded in 1986 with a seed grant and initial endowment from Linda and A.C. “Mike” Markkula Jr., the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics brings the traditions of ethical thinking to bear on real world problems. Beyond a full range of programs for the Santa Clara University Community, the Center also serves professionals in fields from business to health care, from government to the social sector, providing innovative approaches to problems from fake news to privacy protection. Through its website and international collaborations, the Center brings ethical decision-making resources to the wider world. For more information see

About Santa Clara University 
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 9,000 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering; master’s degrees in business, education, counseling psychology, pastoral ministry, and theology; and law degrees and engineering doctoral degrees. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

Media Contact
Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Communications | | 408-768-6898

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