A healthy dose of kindness weakens our financial position
By Sidni Shorter In Podcasts Posted May 6, 2013 0 Comments

A healthy dose of kindness weakens our financial position

Why is everyone in the nonprofit sector so darn nice to one another? Albert Rugesa, president of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, says the constant kindness in our sector is going to be what kills our causes in the end.

Caroline Preston’s Chronicle of Philanthropy article, “Some Nonprofit Leaders Ask: Is Philanthropy Killing Itself with Kindness?” does an excellent job of tackling this surprisingly persistent issue from a variety of angles. This article caught my attention because kindness is having a direct effect on the financial management of running a nonprofit.  Allow me to highlight Preston’s article and you’ll begin to observe a connection to finances like I did.

Genteel attitude: Preston reports that many do say, “The lack of candor, fueled perhaps by a belief that nonprofits’ positive social missions should spare them criticism, is a bigger issue today than ever.” With government funding dwindling and increased scrutiny coming from foundations with less to give, nonprofits find themselves discussing the nobility of their cause in lieu of honest conversations.

Good intentions: People are sensitive to criticism because their involvement is grounded in good intentions in the sector. Despite this fact, Preston quotes consultant Cynthia Gibson who argues that criticism “is not only wise but highly advisable, especially when there are large investments behind it.”

Psychic rewards: Emmett Carson, president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, acknowledges that his colleagues have a tough time challenging nonprofits because they know the personal sacrifices made to work for a charity. As a result, foundations are more reluctant to point out shortcomings.

Bursting bubbles: Preston interviewed Susan Davis, president of BRAC USA, a development organization founded in Bangladesh, who agrees with the notion that “charities need to stop selling only good news.” Davis further adds nonprofits fear donors will reduce their support if they hear about a program’s failure so the charities simplify stories of their work, reinforcing unrealistic expectations.  Davis encourages nonprofits to challenge their donors to join them in the complexities and the journey.

Tougher boards: Nonprofit leaders are not only guilty of oversimplifying their efforts for donors, but they also do the same for boards. Preston reports a trend of board meetings serving only celebratory and deferential purposes.  By ignoring the challenges and not embracing candor, board members remain blissfully ignorant and stay on the job too long.

All of Preston’s themes I’ve highlighted above reinforce the desperate need we have for transparency and tough questions that lead to sustainability. Nonprofit leaders need to ask more of nonchalant board members who simply attend meetings and approve reports. Charity executives also must eliminate this board behavior by overcoming the pressures to spin outcomes so board members leave the meetings comforted that all is well. We, as a sector, need to empower nonprofit leaders’ transparency so they can perform the 21st century tasks required of them: shape public debate, influence tax code and government spending, create collaborative systemic change, and demand intelligent dialogue around today’s complex issues.

By Erica McGeachy Crenshaw,CEO of Execute Now!


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