Breaking the Nonprofit Code of Silence (Jan 06)

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I was listening to the Tavis Smiley Show on New Year’s Eve as he hosted a stellar panel of African American leaders reviewing the events of 2005. Connie Rice, co-director of the Advancement Project and definitely a lady with the gift-o-gab had some pointed words for a prominent Democrat with her eye on the presidency. According to Rice (I’m paraphrasing here): “She needs to stop trying to impersonate an invertebrate.” (I think I actually heard the esteemed Professor Cornel West snort at that). Rice went on to accuse the Democrats more generally of being limp, impotent and unable to stand straight on a platform. I see her point.

I keep telling you that we here at NPQ are not merely Republican bashers — maybe this will finally convince you. We not only do not like people who do bad things by commission, but also, and maybe especially, we don’t like those who crave power but by omission allow bad things to be done without insistently posing an alternate, more productive course.

When it comes to nonprofits and the way they function, our sector makes such omissions in an unwritten, but well understood, code of silence that suffocates us all. When scandals occur we too often put our heads down and just hope to God they won’t affect our funding. This is not healthy, and as Pablo Eisenberg points out in his article “The Nonprofit Conspiracy of Silence,” it speaks volumes about our unwillingness and inability to put the health of our sector and those we serve above that of our individual organizations. The price we pay is loss of trust with our publics and ultimately a weakening of our moral and political authority.

We know that ours is a strange environment. So much of nonprofit financing seems to depend upon our going along to get along. But such thinking we all know is a self reinforcing loop that spirals us down to a place where we forget why we should stand up and how to do it.

The Nonprofit Quarterly has a special responsibility here as a part of the free press of the sector albeit a mere youngster next to most others. As such, we are committed to not only producing for you the best in cutting edge management thinking, but also increasingly to examining our sector critically in the spirit of making it stronger. Our hope is, over the coming year, to do more investigative work for and with you. Consider it a New Year’s resolution and a gift to make us collectively and individually stronger.