A Community-Based Organization Shows How to Communicate Clearly About a Crisis

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September 12, 2011; Source: San Antonio Express-News | Last week NPQ wrote approvingly about the recent forthright announcement by Yahoo’s CEO Carol Bartz that she had been unexpectedly and summarily fired. We suggested that the often-secretive behavior of nonprofits at times of abrupt executive transition is off-putting and erodes confidence and connections with stakeholders.

That’s why this story about Project Quest, a workforce development program in San Antonio, is notable for the communications steps that the agency undertook during a recent crisis, including a meeting with the editorial board of the local newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. The organization recently found itself in “debilitating debt.” Facing another large deficit this year, it had come to the conclusion that it needed a new leader, someone who could spend more time doing the kind of high-profile political work the agency needed at this crucial time.

Incumbent director Mary Peña openly admitted that she was not the right person for the task ahead and has decided to step down. “This has always been a high-profile job,” she told the Express-News. “It’s always been political. I have personal responsibilities that I didn’t have back then. I’ve taken the organization as far as I can.” The forthrightness of the executive transition at Project Quest appears to have impressed local government officials. “They have demonstrated to the city staff after an analysis that any shortcomings in the past are being remedied immediately,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro told the Express-News, adding, “Project Quest has a track record of success with its students.”

The full story is probably more complex than a routine change in leadership. The Texas state comptroller’s office is perhaps in part to blame for the agency’s slide into debt. And we are sure there were some horribly painful moments. But all in all, this publicly-funded agency appears to have comported itself at a difficult time with openness and dignity. Yahoo!—Ruth McCambridge