Sunday, March 13, 2022

Should I help Ukrainians when a nonprofit’s values don’t match my own?

A reader we’re calling Grace has written to ask if she’s being too judgmental in response to a friend’s mass email encouraging friends to donate to efforts to help the people of Ukraine as they face the Russian invasion.


“Is it wrong for me not to want to contribute to a nonprofit that by all reports does good work, but also has a history of vocally disapproving of same-sex marriage or adoptions?” wrote Grace.


Grace writes that she knows her friend does approve of same-sex marriages and adoptions. But she wonders why the friend is promoting an agency that is known to be against such things.


“I want to help,” wrote Grace. “But not through this agency.”


Grace wanted to know if in addition to not making a contribution whether she should let her friend know why.


Stephen Carter, in his book Integrity (Basic Books, 1996), lays out three steps that are essential to integrity. The first is discernment, the second is to act on what you discern, and the third is to state openly what you have done and why you have done it. Grace has achieved Carter’s first two steps. She has discerned why she doesn’t want to support this agency and she has acted on that discernment. The third act would indeed require that she say something to her friend.


In following up with Grace, I learned that she did say something to her friend. Grace was relieved that her friend did not seem to take offense or to sense Grace was passing judgment on her. Her friend explained she felt it was urgent to take some action to support the people of Ukraine and that nonprofit had a strong history of getting donated funds to intended recipients.


Grace did the right thing, but she was left truly wanting to help the people of Ukraine as well. She chose to donate $108 to the International Rescue Committee, whose reputation was strong for the work it was doing in Poland to help displaced families with supplies they needed.


But there are many ways to support Ukrainian families and any number of agencies that do so. Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, for example, is on the ground in Ukraine working with local restaurants to supply meals to Ukrainian families. And some have found ways to donate directly to Ukrainians by booking rooms through platforms like AirBnb that they never intend to occupy. “A small and nice way to help Ukraine,” wrote my friend Yael Bar tur on Twitter who had booked a room in Ukraine, “and I got a nice message from my host this morning.”


Grace was smart to do due diligence on a nonprofit to make sure her values aligned with its values. But she went further to do the right thing by not stopping there, but instead finding a way to help when the need for help is urgent.


When many are in need and many have a desire to help, the right thing is not to get stuck on the many reasons not to donate, but instead to find a way to help. Grace did that. So did Grace’s friend. And so can the rest of us if we are so inclined.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.


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