Abuse and Controversy in the Nonprofit Sector
"Abuses found at local charity!" It's not an uncommon headline, unfortunately. And those of us who have toiled for years in the nonprofit sector cringe every time we hear of a new scandal or fraudulent activity because we fear the fallout that inevitably occurs. After all, if one nonprofit has unscrupulous practices, then it follows that we all must.
I recently read an article about the latest nonprofit embroiled in a financial investigation. At this point, I should mention my disclaimer that I have no independent knowledge of this particular case, and the ASU Lodestar Center takes no position on any organization involved in a dispute of this kind. Whether the organization did or didn't do what it said it would do isn't even the point of this blog. The point is this:
When confronted with the funding discrepancies of the organization he had founded, the executive director, who did in fact pay himself a salary, had this to say: "I never said I was a professional at this."
I was utterly astonished and flabbergasted upon reading his statement. In what other field would the head of an organization be allowed to screw up and then claim ignorance? Can you imagine patronizing any other business, restaurant, or store, receiving no product or service in exchange for your money, and listening to the owner say, "Well... I never said I was a professional."
What would a rational response to this excuse be? Are we just supposed to excuse people on the basis of good intentions?
Every nonprofit professional with a shred of integrity should feel some indignation at this poor excuse for an excuse. It's an affront to all of us who have undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in nonprofit studies, who have spent years learning the skills required to run a nonprofit organization, who stay current on the latest trends by constantly reading any book, article, blog, or website that might help us do our jobs better.
None of us could just decide tomorrow that we want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant and simply hang out a shingle. What's the difference? Those fields all have strict credentialing requirements. But shouldn't nonprofit executives hold themselves to the same standards?
Another difference is the very complicated matter of "good intentions." We all know where those lead... Except in the nonprofit sector, "good intentions" are at the foundation of every single enterprise. We can't castigate people for having good intentions. On the contrary, our sector needs them to survive and thrive.
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We should find a way to support and further institutionalize the education and training of our nonprofit leaders. For over 60 years the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (formerly American Humanics) has been certifying undergraduate students who complete a regimented curriculum. There's a move now to encourage all alumni who are "Certified Nonprofit Professionals" to use the "CNP" distinction after their names. We at the ASU Lodestar Center are proud to see the ever-increasing number of people putting "MNpS" after their names, indicating their completing of our graduate program.
Every day people are signing up for our Nonprofit Management Institute (NMI) classes, registering for our Fall Conference, and participating in our leadership programs. The mere fact that you are reading this blog, dear reader, demonstrates that I am preaching to the proverbial choir. We are working towards the establishment of a field of trained, dedicated professionals, the quality of which one could compare to any other discipline.
So, while the nonprofit sector will continue to absorb the blows of crushing headlines, we must continue our work to educate our staff, to inform our board members, to serve as examples for our sector and for others.
That's why we're professionals, right?