Don’t Toy With the Marine Corps
Other charities might not have been able to recover from such a financial and public relations disaster. But just like a good Marine, the organization kept its cool, regrouped and forged ahead.
“The key thing to getting back up was to find the right president and CEO,” says Lt. Gen. Pete Osman, a retired Marine and the organization’s current president and CEO. “The commandant picked [Lt.] Gen. [Matthew] Cooper, who was just about to retire. But he accepted the opportunity and put the organization back on its feet.
“Keeping with the tradition of the Marines, he opened the doors, turned on the lights and got everything back to normal, and made sure everything was transparent,” Osman says.
Cooper also cleaned house, reducing staff, bringing in a new board of directors and moving the organization’s headquarters from Buffalo, N.Y. to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va. He also suspended the direct-mail campaign and appealed to corporations to renew their support.
“[Lt.] Gen. Cooper also got on TV and let the American public know that we had problems within the foundation and that we were going to resolve it,” Osman says. “It does take years to regain the public’s confidence, but persistence can prove to be fruitful. The key to an organization getting past something like this is transparency. Let your donors know that mistakes were made but that they’re being fixed.
“The public can be very forgiving if you are honest with them,” he adds.
The road back
Since then, Toys for Tots’ situation has improved steadily. The organization did its research and restarted a direct-marketing campaign with the help of Maryland-based consultancy CDR Fundraising Group.
When Toys for Tots turned to CDRFG in 1997, it let the agency know that it wanted to crawl before it walked back into a direct-marketing program. CDRFG President Geoff Peters says the agency told the organization it needed to start mailing its housefile, building its donor base and acquiring new donors.
Related story: Marine Toys for Tots Foundation