Haunted Happenings at the Smithsonian? (Oct 07)

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Scary for our sector is a little counterintuitive, of course, since it can involve lavish overindulgence coupled with indolence. Who wouldn’t want to be rich and largely unaccountable? But these are the images that haunt regular, run of the mill nonprofits because they destroy the public’s faith in the sector. Some nonprofits — the big universities, for example — are in first-class cabins enjoying Great Gatsby-style soirees, while most nonprofits are sitting in steerage and watching icebergs float by just a bit too closely. The Nonprofit Quarterly — the magazine as well as its e-newsletters like this one — thinks it’s worth making such distinctions and asking what’s really included under the generalized nonprofit “halo,” what real nonprofits are experiencing, and where the trends in the sector are leading, especially for those of us in steerage looking anxiously for the undersized lifeboats.

This issue of the Cohen Report continues its quest to delve beneath the spin and see what’s really there. Spinning wildly is the new Congressional Philanthropy Caucus. The caucus membership contains a couple of players who have held strange and frightening positions on key nonprofit issues. Even more horrific are the thugs who run the Sudan and Burma, but they still haven’t frightened off certain major foundation and university investors. There may be some nonprofit execs who think they are haunted by advisory committees, as the Smithsonian Institution bigwigs clearly do about the (advisory) board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian. But maybe these committees wouldn’t be so fear-inducing if they were treated with courtesy and respect — as the law requires for advisory committees of institutions like the Smithsonian.

Okay, enough of the Halloween metaphor. Let me know what’s on your mind and don’t forget to look in the Fall issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly for my article on the United Way’s latest reinvention of itself. Is it death throes or soaring spirit? You’ll have to subscribe to find out.