Keeping an Industry Scandal From Tarnishing Your Organization
I've been in the business for a long, long time (yes, my first boss was a dinosaur), and I've been unfortunate in that I have had to navigate through many scandals that have rocked our industry. I could mention a few names, and some of you would cringe right along with me. (But I'm not going to — that's "shooting ourselves in the foot," as far as I'm concerned.)
Let's face it — some nonprofits are the worst enemies of the rest of us who are doing our best to stay above the fray and comply with the law and the "higher standard" some donors expect of us. But sadly, when a scandal hits the mainstream press, we feel it. Some donors assume "guilty by association." Others use any excuse to say, "I told you so!" and cut back their giving.
We can't "fix" the unethical (or legal but stupid) practices of the minority of nonprofits that are hogging the headlines, but we can make sure that their misdeeds have little or no impact on our missions — and our income (which impacts our ability to carry out those missions). Here are some proactive steps to take to minimize the "guilt by association" stigma.
Take a long, hard look around
Is there anything that could raise an eyebrow? Is your board peppered with staff and family members? Is your "independent auditor" your brother-in-law? Are your receipts slow to arrive and scant on information that assures the donor you are using the gift as requested? Do you have policies for gift acceptance that you consistently follow? Do you report back to your donors, not just ask them for money?
If you are in a position to address problems that surface, work with the appropriate people to make the changes that increase your donors' confidence that you are above the taint of scandal and worthy of support.