Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 67-74

First online:

Charitable Conflicts of Interest

  • Chris MacDonaldAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Dalhousie University
  • , Michael McDonaldAffiliated withCentre for Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia
  • , Wayne NormanAffiliated withCentre for Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia

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This paper looks at conflicts of interest in the not-for-profit sector. It examines the nature of conflicts of interest and why they are of ethical concern, and then focuses on the way not-for-profit organisations are especially prone to and vulnerable to conflict-of-interest scandals. Conflicts of interest corrode trust; and stakeholder trust (particularly from donors) is the lifeblood of most charities. We focus on some specific challenges faced by charitable organisations providing funding for scientific (usually medical) research, and examine a case study involving such an organisation. One of the principal problems for charities of this kind is that they often distribute their funds within a relatively small research community (defined by the boundaries of a small region, like an American state or Spanish Autonomous region, or a small country), and it often proves difficult to find high-level researchers within the jurisdiction to adjudicate impartially the research grants. We suggest and recommend options appropriate for our case study and for many other organisations in similar situations.

business ethics charities conflict of interest non-profits organisational ethics trust