Goodwill Store, Rocky Hill, CT, 8/2014” by Mike Mozart

April 29, 2017; Omaha World-Herald

On Friday, we wrote about what occurred at the Livestrong Foundation following the doping scandal involving Lance Armstrong in 2011 and how hard leadership had to work to begin to shift momentum toward the right direction. Now, we have another story tracing the aftermath of a highly publicized scandal. This one is about an organization that evidently lapsed into habits that reflected a sloppy ethical construct.

Last year, NPQ followed an investigation done by the Omaha World-Herald on the practices of Goodwill Omaha. The series, for which the reporters received an award, scrutinized an array of management and governance concerns. These concerns included a salary range that encompassed both a large executive staff that was relatively highly paid and workers with disabilities who were paid less than minimum wage. There were also questions raised about nepotism and conflicts of interest at the board level. Altogether, the paper described it as a profit-driven culture.

The articles had an impact. The CEO and some board members left the organization as donors fell away, and the Nebraska attorney general began an investigation of the nonprofit. The board promised to turn the organization around, starting with a top-to-bottom assessment and an ethics review. And so, this month, Goodwill started working with Quantum Governance, a consulting group based in Washington, D.C. to do just that. It is also in the early stages of looking for a new permanent CEO to replace interim Pauli Bishop.

Bishop says the nonprofit has ended the practice of paying some disabled workers less than minimum wage. She wouldn’t comment about the current makeup of the board or the extent to which donations have fallen, saying only that donations have recovered somewhat and that the board has changed. Bishop said she hopes to have the assessment wrapped up by mid-August.

In the meanwhile, the organization has hired the Business Ethics Alliance to conduct a series of “goodwill conversations” designed to help the organization move forward with ethical leadership and communication, and it will also undergo the Alliance’s ethical cultural assessment.

These kinds of stories of the sometimes-years-long recovery of organizations from public scandals should remind us all that periodic ethics reviews are vitally important for nonprofit sustainability.—Ruth McCambridge