Home > Ethics and Accountability

A respected Washington, D.C., think tank, Independent Sector offers resources to help nonprofits maintain the public’s trust. The section of the site has links to Resource Center for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, which has hundreds of free examples of effective practice and tools, as well as other resources from around the country to guide their work. The site also links to Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice: A Guide for Charities and Foundations (PDF), which outlines 33 principles of sound practice related to legal compliance and public disclosure, effective governance, financial oversight and responsible fundraising.  

Standards and Codes

Independent Sector’s code of ethics, adopted in 2004, is a well-thought-out document for nonprofits to use when forming their own codes. 

Developed initially by the Maryland Association of NonProfit Organizations, this model code covers every policy a nonprofit needs to address, such as conflicts of interest, fundraising, public affairs and human resources. Nonprofits of all stripes in several states have used this as a template for their own codes of ethics and standards. 

While the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley Act was created initially to govern publicly traded companies, it also has implications for nonprofits. This document, produced by BoardSource and Independent Sector, outlines those, and this information should be taken into account when developing standards.

Succinct, thorough explanation of these two concepts and how they apply to nonprofits from Idealist. 

Publications and Case Histories

The Association for Fundraising Professionals keeps a log of links to articles that discuss various ethical issues related to nonprofits.

A library of great links to organizations, books, articles and academic departments that are devoted to business ethics, compiled by Florida Atlantic University.

The Foundation Center’s website links to articles and books about accountability that the staff has gathered from places like the Urban Institute, PublicAffairs and Nonprofit Quarterly.​

The Independent Sector provides three reports that help charities and foundations be “responsible stewards of the public’s generosity.”

Written by a professor at the College of William and Mary’s law school, this article guides nonprofit managers through a checkup of their organizations’ ethical health.
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