Nonprofits Need to Earn Respect
“The high road is always respected. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded.” — Scott Hamilton, Olympian
Years ago, when we were crafting our firm’s mission statement, there was a lot of discussion over one word: respect. Our mission statement says that we “partner with respected nonprofit organizations.”
Unfortunately, organizations sometimes stray, and honesty and integrity are compromised. Those organizations can come back to fulfill their missions and potential, but it’s a long road and they must regain the public trust through impeccable integrity.
Hamilton is right on the money: Organizations where honesty and integrity are the culture are rewarded—with the respect of the sector and of their donors—and, ultimately, with more funds to do their good work.
Nonprofits and their leaders—board and staff—hold a public trust. The government supports the sector by providing tax benefits both to our organizations and to our donors. With this public trust comes a higher standard.
One of the challenges with our sector—and why we haven’t done more to grow the incredible culture of philanthropy in our country and throughout many organizations—is that we don’t always hold ourselves to this higher standard in three crucial areas.
- In fundraising: How we do our work does make a difference. We are a worthy profession. To take shortcuts or to allow our organizations to take shortcuts does nothing. There are those in our profession—even consultants—who, by ignorance or design, don’t uphold the highest standards. This is one of the reasons feasibility and planning studies are a popular topic of conversation—because too many firms take shortcuts and do not conduct them properly. Not putting donors first, communicating and thanking poorly, focusing on the wrong things—these all plague our profession.
- In ethics: We must uphold this public trust and function in ways that never bring scrutiny to our organizations and our sector about how funds are used. This includes transparency in our finances, personnel policies and other areas. I know of one failing CEO who paid a coach (one of his best friends) more than $1 million during his tenure before finally being fired. Systems should have been in place for the board to realize this sooner.
- In leadership: To accept poor leadership is a great sin, in my estimation. That includes staff and board leadership. Too often, organizations just pass along poor leaders—even at the highest levels—to other organizations. If a mature organization, for example, struggles to meet budget and/or fundraising goals repeatedly, there are issues.
As we begin to enter a new year, full of promise and potential, let’s all work a bit harder to ensure that our organizations and our sector are respected. A key to this is to safeguard our professional standards, our ethics and our leadership by constantly striving for excellence and holding ourselves and others to the highest standards.
We have incredible nonprofit professionals who strive for excellence with the work they do and raise the bar for our sector as a whole. Aretha Franklin and Rodney Dangerfield had something in common—they both wanted respect. Let’s increase our respect and transform and save even more lives!!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.