Charleston, S.C. Ballet Company in a Tangle

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April 16, 2012; Source: Post and Courier

We were alerted to this article about the Charleston Ballet Theatre in Charleston, S.C. because it included the information that a Nonprofit Quarterly article was distributed to the ballet’s board warning them that members could be held personally liable for unpaid payroll taxes. That was in December, and things do not seem to have improved much since then.

According to this Post and Courier article, the ballet company is in a tight spot. Reportedly, the company was unable to make its last payroll, has recently lost seven board members, and is in debt to the IRS for more than $23,000. The City of Charleston is withholding quarterly payments (which caused the missed payroll, apparently) and the Coastal Community Foundation, which handles some local nonprofits’ endowments and grants, has stated that it will not make more distributions until it is satisfied that the organization meets its requirements for reasonable governance.

Apparently, the problems have been brewing for some time but came to a head last year when charges of copyright infringement and plagiarism surfaced. There were also allegations of abusive treatment of dancers and mismanagement of funds and the ballet, in the midst of all of that, is suing an anonymous person for writing a defamatory e-mail.

Obviously, whatever is going on is a tangle, if we are to judge from the CEO’s e-mail statement to the staff: “The City of Charleston will not release the City ATAX (accommodations tax) monies in time for you to receive your March 30th paycheck,” she wrote. “With the board resignations we must enlarge the board in order to make any adjustments to our bylaws.”

The e-mail goes on to state, “Everyone will work as swiftly as possible, but in reality I have no solid idea how long this process will take.”

George Stevens of the Coastal Community Foundation makes a great point in saying that nonprofit boards are “supposed to represent the interests of the community,” to act as an intermediary between the arts group (its management and employees) and their patrons and supporters.

“So what’s breaking down here is the relationship between society at large and the nonprofit organization,” Stevens said.

The article states that “outside staff” are helping with the restructuring of the ballet and donors are coming forward to help. We wish this organization a safe turnaround, and also hope that other organizations headed down a troublesome path make quicker use of the NPQ information here at your fingertips. –Ruth McCambridge

  • Darrell Edwards

    Stevens stood idly by as the CSO cut back to “nothingness” Who is he to determine the relationship between “society and the non-profit”” How arrogant! Why not forget your self imposed lofty “position” and offer constructive ways to help this situation as ALL your predecessors did!!

  • Darrell Edwards

    Mr. Stevens stood idly by as the CSO went into what one can say is “nothingness!” Who is he to be the determiner of some sort of divide between “society and the non-profit”? In this case CBT! Why doesn’t he descend from his lofty self-imposed position of authority/power and offer “non-public” suggestions like ALL of his predecessors use to on how these organizations can address in a constructive way the challenges they face? Whatever they are! Public talk is useless! Constructive assistance is the order of the day.

  • Robin Reid


    It is Stevens’ job to manage the Ballet Company. It is the job of the Ballet Board to do that.

    The CCF has the task of stewarding the endowment funds entrusted to it, making sure that funds are distributed to nonprofits in good standing, which the Ballet is obviously not. Stevens and the CCF did their job, and did it well, although the process was probably painful.

    I am sure that behind the scenes much advice was given, and ignored.

  • Austin smith

    Seems as though the problems were actually deeply rooted, and not solved by blaming others as Jill and the staff did.