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Principles of Ethical and Effective Service

Talisman sings for Haas Center 25th anniversary celebration

Why Principles?

Community organizations provide rich learning opportunities for Stanford students engaged in public service. Stories abound of students’ transformative experiences through community involvement. Many faculty, staff, and students establish mutually beneficial relationships with partner organizations that enhance student learning and contribute to the mission of a community partner. At times, however, there have also been breaches of community trust and respect.

In 2002, the Haas Center consulted with over 75 community participants, faculty, students, and staff to develop the Principles for Ethical and Effective Service to raise awareness about the University’s responsibility to communities and organizations involved with public service activities at Stanford. The document provides snapshots of the Principles in action, using examples from the Haas Center’s own programs. Community partners’ inclusion in the original development of the principles has yielded a platform for ongoing conversations about how university-community interactions can both enhance student learning and benefit the community. We urge readers to consider how they can adapt these principles for their own communities and engage diverse stakeholders in a discussion about the opportunities and challenges inherent in university efforts to engage service participants as both learners and teachers.

The Haas Center uses the Principles to inform program design and implementation as we continually work to align our work and guiding valuesLeaders of student service groups use the reflection questions related to each principle as a springboard for assessing their work with the community. Faculty members who apply for service-learning grants use the document as a guide to thinking about how course design can promote ethical and effective service. 

In 2014, after a dozen years of active use, we refreshed our existing principles document through a facilitated feedback process with multiple stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, and community members). The revised document captures this input while maintaining the integrity and spirit of the original work. We hope the principles continue to serve Stanford students, faculty, and staff as a resource for creating and deepening community partnerships, and achieve our desired goal of enhancing student learning and community benefit. 
A few general assumptions regarding the language used in this document:
  • Although the principles are applicable to all parties involved in a public service-related activity, the language is primarily focused on the student role and experience.
  • The term “service initiative” is broadly defined and refers to any activity that falls within our Pathways of Public Service: Direct Service, Community-Engaged Scholarship, Activism, Philanthropy, Policy/Politics and Social Entrepreneurship.
  • The term “community partner” refers to any local, national, or global individual or organization which partners with our students in their service and learning endeavor.
  • The principles are not listed in priority order; all are interconnected and equally valued.

Reciprocity and Learning Through Partnership

  • Develop, or continue to cultivate, collaborative relationships with community partners that recognize their role as educators of student participants.
  • Involve community partners in the design, facilitation, and evaluation of service initiatives (direct service activity, advocacy campaign, research, etc.) to ensure the value and relevance of the work to the community.
Working Toward Reciprocity
What should reciprocity look like between you and your community partners? How do you evaluate the needs, assets and interests of your community partners? What experience and knowledge do your community partners have that will contribute to your learning? What strategies can you use to show appreciation to your community partners for their educational role?

Clear Expectations and Commitments

  • Clarify community partners’ needs and preferences and develop mutual goals. Determine clear, realistic and transparent expectations and time frames between all parties involved. Consider nuances of the academic calendar. Explore potential for sustainability and/or develop appropriate exit strategies.
  • Arrange for periodic check-ins with community partners to seek feedback and to ensure accountability and that mutual expectations are being met.
  • Model and emphasize the importance of keeping commitments made to community partners.
Clarifying and Fulfilling Expectations and Commitments
What are your community partners’ expectations; how will you determine your community partners’ needs and interests and share your own? How could/will your service effort be sustained? If you are leading other volunteers, what commitment are you or should you be asking for? How will you establish clear lines of ongoing communication with your community partners? Is it appropriate and valuable to mutually establish a partnership agreement or MOU?


  • Prepare for a service initiative with the attitudes, skills, knowledge, and materials needed to serve effectively.
  • Understand the context in which the service experience is embedded. Share current and historical information about the partner organizations and communities, and the impact of political, economic, environmental, and social contexts.
  • Seek advice from community partners in determining content, and involve them in preparing or training students whenever possible.
Improving Preparation
How will you build preparation into your program design? What would be beneficial for you to learn or do before engaging with the community and/or social issue? What resources are available that might deepen your understanding of the context surrounding your service initiative? How has your academic work prepared you for this experience?

Respect for Diversity

  • Model respect for diversity, broadly and inclusively defined (on the basis not only of gender identity, race, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic levels but also cultural norms and ideologies).
  • Before, during, and after the service experience, actively challenge biases, stereotypes, and assumptions regarding the community you are working with and the issues being addresed.
Valuing Respect for Diversity
How do you and your team explore and respect the diversity of your community partners? How do issues of identity, power and privilege affect your service context, and what strategies will you implement to address these?

Safety and Wellbeing

  • Anticipate and take steps to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all service initiative participants.
  • Understand and comply with special safety or liability requirements of community partners and the university.
Ensuring Safety
What are the particular safety concerns in your service initiative? Have you spoken with your community partner(s) and university adviser about safety issues and made plans to mitigate risk?

Reflection and Evaluation

  • Intentionally and creatively build in opportunities to reflect throughout service experiences, involving community partners when possible.
  • Include opportunities to gather regular feedback from community partners and participants to assess value, refine practice, and inform future actions.
Incorporating Reflection & Evaluation
When, where and how will you incorporate reflection opportunities into your experience? How do you make a safe space for participants to reflect? How will you measure success? What method(s) and/or tools will you utilize to collect feedback and evaluate impact?


  • Serve with a listening and learning attitude, ever mindful of community members' needs, assets, and interests; and their own expectations, limitations, and capacity to serve.
  • View any service work you are asked to do as a valuable learning opportunity that complements knowledge and builds understanding.
Working Toward Humility
How will you prepare yourself and your team to be humble and respectful in service experiences? What does humility look like in your service context; how will you demonstrate this?
En Español (.pdf)