Earning Trust Is at the Heart of Our Ethics Task Force

Thursday, April 7, 2022 - 10:25 am
Jamie Merisotis

Philanthropy can advance important ideas for a nation still emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and grappling with racial injustice and extreme political division. But we must hold ourselves accountable, too.  

The Council on Foundations’ Ethics Task Force will help us do that, and I am honored to take on a new role as chair. I look forward to joining a diverse set of Council members on the task force, representing a variety of institutional types and ideologies. We will meet several times this spring, and plan to share more details as we begin this work together.  

I want to be clear that we do not have all the answers yet. We are taking this first step together as a group of philanthropic leaders and will be leaning into the expertise of Council members and field partners to create a path forward that promotes transparency and builds trust in philanthropy. We will create a set of ethical standards to guide the Council’s members, and when needed, review member violations and oversee a sanctions process.  

I have witnessed—as I’m sure most of you have—the widespread damage to our field brought by even a single case of self-dealing or financial mismanagement. But we’ve seen many more examples of inspired leadership in the cause of equity.  

One of the individuals who has been a role model for me in this arena is the late Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, who served as president of Morehouse College and led the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education and the peaceful desegregation of the city’s schools in the 1970s. I learned of Dr. Mays and became immersed in his ideas during my time as a student at Bates College, where he was a distinguished graduate. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously called Mays his "intellectual father."  

An individual of principle, moral courage, and faith, Dr. Mays’ always-ethical perspective has guided much of my work in higher education, public policy, and philanthropy. My wife Colleen and I even named our son after him, in the hope that our son and his generation will carry on that pursuit of justice.  

We have a long way to go in that pursuit, but we know the enduring power of ethical leadership in philanthropy. We’re called upon to earn and grow the trust placed in our leadership—from all communities, our nonprofit partners, and the public. And I know this ethics task force will help us do that. 

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