Philanthropy and Ethics

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Nonprofit effectiveness
Video Clip and Discussion Guide: In this video, we learn from philanthropy scholars that not all giving has a positive impact. We learn about ethics and effective management of nonprofits to ensure they are good stewards of the money they raise.

Anticipatory Set

Ancient philosopher Seneca said regarding our giving practice, "We must consider the time and the place, and the character of the receiver, which are the weights in the scale, which cause our gifts to be well or ill received." Discuss the meaning of this quote and what might cause a gift to be received, or even given, without the best intent.



  1. In the video, Dr. Sulek said that even as far back as ancient leaders like Aristotle, people have been expected to give and serve at many levels, particularly through public service. This contributes to the formation of character, the development of virtue, and to the personal happiness of the giver. Discuss personal experience with, or observation of, each of these three traits of the giver, which are gained through service. 
  2. Giving is an act of one's heart and head. What is a possible result if we respond only with heart to an ask for help and don't analyze where our efforts are going and the full effects of our giving?
  3. Service, or giving, can put the giver in control. How does the statement "I want to help people who have less than I do" indicate a power difference? What can go wrong with that?
  4. What is a healthy way to talk about taking action to address needs that promotes balance and respect between giver and receiver? Write a sentence that says why you want to volunteer at a soup kitchen that focuses on the issue, and doesn't belittle people who are served. 
  5. There is a risk in international giving of not understanding the needs, language, customs, beliefs, economy, and culture of the people you intend to help. Philanthropy in this case may have a good intent, but actually cause harm. What do you think you could do to avoid doing harm in philanthropy? (Note: this could be a domestic issue too because of racial, age, socio-economic, and gender differences.)

Follow-Up Activity

Charity Navigator and GuideStar are two online organizations that help you make careful decisions about your giving. Use their search engine to look up a nonprofit you are interested in supporting with a donation or volunteer hours. Charity Navigator or GuideStar will tell you how the organization is rated in effective performance toward its mission.