When nonprofits do wrong
I wince every time I see something like this post at Keeping a Close Eye: Funding Incompetence that fingers the American Red Cross and the Smithsonian Institution as "tarnished charitable organizations":
These two charities are representative of a diminished sector that needs to replenish its cherished place with America's trust. Unfortunately, they parallel AIG, Merrill Lynch and the rest of the large financial institutions that are apparently too big to close or sanction. The taxpayers have become the guarantors of their survival.
It's a painful piece to read. I don't know whether it's entirely fair. But I do know two things:
- We're likely going to see a lot more of this kind of thing in the coming years. And not all of it is going to be this well-reasoned; some will be completely off-the-wall. Because anybody can say anything online. Be ready for it.
- Stories like this may hurt us all in the short term, but help us in the long term ("us" being the honest, ethical, and competent fundraisers). Charity scandals tend to fester for years as people vaguely remember that some charity did something nefarious and they don't want to give to whole categories of organizations as a result. By noting who did exactly what, these stories can place blame where it's due, not on everyone.
What's the ethical nonprofit to do?
- Be super ethical, all the time. Many actions that used to be tolerated probably won't any more. And many more things that never saw the light of day will become public.
- Don't participate in sweeping dirt under the rug. If another nonprofit screws up, don't be seen as circling the wagons and protecting the guilty. You'll get painted with the same guilt.
- Have a plan for responding if you get unjustly painted as an evildoer.
See also this report from the Federal Trade Commission on an operation against some charity bad guys: Operation False Charity.
Technorati Tag: scandals