Of course, I think my eight year old son is adorable – he’s smart, handsome, loving, witty and extremely competitive. He’s also curious. Right now, he’s especially curious about words he’s not supposed to say – which makes him not so adorable. On a recent car trip, he was quizzing us about these words and how “bad” they were on the scale of “badness.” My husband handled the issue perfectly: “Son, regardless of whether or not you get in trouble for saying that word, saying something like that is like toothpaste – once it’s out of the tube, it’s nearly impossible to get it back in. Sometimes, you can’t take it back.”
This same advice comes to mind when I read about issues at Wounded Warrior (just Google it, there are too many articles to link here) and Cancer Fund of America/Cancer Support Services. Once a charity’s reputation (or as I fear – the sector’s reputation) is damaged, it is really tough to overcome – it’s hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube. And how can we not think that situations like these are responsible for some of the downright scary legislation we are seeing crop up across the nation. In our own Commonwealth, HB 583 was filed in the 2016 KY General Assembly to require the KY Attorney General to create a “worst 50” list of charities based on certain expense criteria. I support calling out bad apples, but with which yardstick? You may know – I’m pretty passionate about the overhead myth. So, I assured the sponsor of the bill, Representative Jill York, that KNN and our members agree with her – nonprofits must be transparent and good stewards of the funds entrusted to them. But I urged her to work with us on how that’s achieved. One size doesn’t fit all…
So what can we do? Lots. My colleague, Tim Delaney at the National Council of Nonprofits shared excellent thoughts in his article: Earning the Public’s Trust – Every Day. And as Tim mentions, KNN’s Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Kentucky tools are an excellent resource.
The older I get, the more I learn that there’s little I can control. I can’t control the bad apples that unfortunately exist in our sector – any more than I can convince someone to stop fighting a good piece of legislation, squelch my son’s current fascination with all things inappropriate and gross, or even get the toothpaste back in the tube. Luckily, there are things I can control – steps we as nonprofit leaders can take – and I’m going to channel my energies there. I believe it’s the only way to get the focus where it needs to be – on the important work of our nonprofit sector and it’s impact on our communities.
KNN is here to help – to provide our members with resources and tools; to advocate on your behalf when legislation is filed that we think will damage the sector; and to engage our sector in these important conversations. If your nonprofit isn’t a KNN member, I can’t think of a more important time to join your state association of nonprofits.