Scary Nonprofits and the Ethicist

Print Share on LinkedIn More

A friend was telling me the other day that he was hired to succeed a very long term founder of a community agency. The man he replaced was apparently well liked and competent but had been accused of some very petty crimes toward the end of his tenure, even though they in no way involved the agency. But it was a small town. It was not clear how the termination had occurred but my friend said that for years every time the agency he then ran achieved something, began a campaign, or made the local news in a positive way, the local paper would find space somewhere in the article to mention these accusations: “of course, you all remember . . .”

This is one (of many) nonprofit versions of “The Haunting.”

Eventually my friend was able to back the local editor off this particular story line, but this situation brings home the enormous value of our reputations as nonprofits. Public trust means everything to most of us and to guard it we have to act with as much individual and collective integrity as possible.

So when people let problems fester and worsen within their organizations they risk the work itself and sometimes the people who are served by that work.

But it is not always easy to intervene.

NPQ’s Nonprofit Ethicist always stands ready to help you think about what to do in such sticky situations. He will answer your question—privately—within the week if you ask it here. If we decide to print your story, identifying facts will be changed and you will have the opportunity to approve the copy before it goes out. To get you started, you can read the Ethicist from our current issue on our Web site.

And while we are on the subject—remember to subscribe to the Nonprofit Quarterly right now:

  • we work hard to tell your stories and provide good advice and are largely dependent upon your support;
  • when you subscribe, you get full access to NPQ’s rich archives on our Web site—filled with more than 600 articles on financial matters, organizational strategy and restructuring, fundraising, evaluation, uses of technology, and governance among many other things;
  • we are in the midst of a project, Nonprofits in the Age of Obama, that tracks trends, including many you don’t see addressed elsewhere, in this turbulent environment and the impacts of those trends on organizations like yours;
  • if you subscribe today, you will receive a downloadable compendium of all our Nonprofits in the Age of Obama articles to date—so you can get all caught up.

Meanwhile, stay out of scary places as much as possible.

  • Su Neuhauser

    I enjoyed reading this issue of your quarterly. The writing is more interesting than several other non-profit publications I receive. 8)

  • Nikki Kirk

    This is so true in small town America. Local media outlets are biased and don’t have the objective journalism skills that larger news outlets have. I ran into the same problem but I became really good friends with the crime beat writer that wrote on stories concerning my agency.

    It worked out really well for the Center, but the other players didn’t like it because it exposed ‘their” flaws. In a situation like that, you may as well burn the place down, rebuild in a new location, change boards, and get a new name. It’s a no win situation.:cry: