As I sit here on my deck, two days from being forced to end a contract with a client who has “integrity issues”, I’m reminded of the word accountability and how it relates to non-profits. I once worked for a non-profit who had an Executive Director who had; shall we say…a bit of a shattered moral compass? Which would be fine on its own, because let’s be honest; people are much more entertaining that way but it unfortunately started to spill out on to the non-profit and its mission.
I probably should have noticed from the very moment I met her that I was going to be in for a bumpy ride. Usually Executive Directors try to refrain from badmouthing previous employees but it seems that my entire interview was more of a bitch session about someone else rather than what I could bring to the table. And just for reference, these were the days when I had yet to discover the words “No, I will not work for you”. It’s called a lack of self-respect and I’m not proud.
So I took the job and within two weeks I discovered more than I would ever want to know about another human being. As it turns out, she had issues with alcohol, prescription drugs and other more tawdry secrets that I’m going to refrain from mentioning. And hey, I’m the last person on the planet to judge the way someone else handles their personal demons but it just so happens that the very population we were trying to serve had issues of the same kind. Even then I’m not so sure it’s anyone’s to judge unless, of course, she strapped her demons on her back and took them to work with her. And, of course, she couldn’t help herself.
One lovely evening, at a benefit gala in a beautiful ocean front luxury hotel, she decided she was going to morph in to Will Ferrell’s character, Frank (The Tank) Ricard, from the movie Old School. Now, I’m all for slammin’ a couple back when you’ve successfully hit your budget goals and raised an enormous amount of money for those who need our help the most. Unfortunately this started at the very beginning of the evening before the introductions, before the dinner, before the silent and live auctions and before the final ask of the evening, which of course was her job.
Staff knew there was a problem the moment she started slurring her speech during her opening monologue, in front of 400 people, including potential new donors and media. Luckily, there was a board member standing nearby to step in and wrestle the microphone from her. Staff scooped her up, sat her down in back and fed her bread, water and coffee. An hour later, and just when they thought she was going to recover, someone foolishly looked away and she slipped out the back door. Fifteen minutes before she was scheduled to go on stage for the final ask, and staff had been scrambling for over an hour to find her, she was found at the outside bar with another board member doing shots of tequila. Staff members had to scramble for a replacement at the very last second and besides the money the organization managed to raise throughout the evening, the entire event was a PR nightmare.
To save her job – which probably shouldn’t have been an option at that point– the Board of Directors ordered her directly in to rehab. Of course no one was willing to take on the responsibility of checking to see if she actually attended any meetings (and let’s be honest, who the hell wants to babysit a 47 year old?), which resulted in the Executive Director going to one meeting and then promptly quitting the program. The board was under the impression that she’d been attending for the four months prior to me being hired. The reason I know all of this is because she told me. Sitting next to me in the lobby bar with a martini in her hand at a conference in Las Vegas.
Now, I don’t claim to have all of the answers about who should be the face of your organization but I do know that it probably shouldn’t be the person who can’t handle the responsibility. Yes, that’s right, you do actually have a responsibility to represent and act on behalf of those without a voice. That’s one of the reason’s you’re in the non-profit industry to begin with, isn’t it? Just nod your head and say yes. Everyone in your organization has an obligation to uphold your mission statement. If they don’t, then, they go. It’s that simple. Always remember why you’re there.