The Mortenson Effect (Part 3)

by Tamara A.

First of all, my apologies for delaying this Part 3 for so long.  I didn’t anticipate the time gap being so drawn out.  I severely underestimated the amount of attention my first cheese curds experience would require. (I spent five days in America’s Dairyland.)

Second of all, I have to admit, I got a little rattled by some comments on the last post.  This writing for people to see and critique is new to me.  I feel fairly vulnerable and self-conscious as I’m finding my public voice.  This is definitely my first rodeo.

Third of all, here my whole point for even addressing the Mortenson scandal…

Transparency.  TRANSPARENCY.

This is the lesson that all other nonprofits can pull from this upset.

Others have raised the questions of different factors playing into the apparent deception.  Maybe CAI was unstaffed (I think they were), maybe there was too much traveling hindering the organization (poor excuse), maybe Mortenson was being overworked (definitely bit off more than he could chew), or maybe it was merely a case of sloppiness taking place.  While I’m not denying any of these, I don’t see any of these factors being a valid reason for the lack of communication that existed between Mortenson and his board, his staff, and his public.

When I think of complete transparency and what is involved, two important elements come to mind: honesty and accountability.  Here is how I see them playing into this:

  • Honesty – Lies mask reality.  In order for others to truly be able to see and understand what is going on (personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, whatever), the truth has to be present.  If not, the openness is not transparent at all, but rather a facade creating a thicker wall to break through.

 

  • Accountability – Claiming your own piece of the puzzle and being open to responsibility (sometimes good or sometimes bad) has to be in place to be truly transparent.  By exposing what is going on behind the scenes, a vulnerability is created and an acceptance that those in the organization have to own up to.

Honesty leads to accountability, which is transmitted through transparency, which only accurately happens with honesty and accountability.  The perfect triangle in my mind.

But why is this important for groups to focus on?  Besides just having the integrity to do so, nonprofits really need to be aware of the assurance that donors are looking for.  Just like any other industry, nonprofit organizations are in constant competition with their fellow nonprofits.  It sounds weird to say that, but they are.  It’s not as blatant as the for-profit sectors in which companies are discrediting or cutting down the next firm in order to sell more of their own product.  However, there is a limited number of dollars that benefactors are willing to shell out year after year.  And each nonprofit is eager to get their hands on that.  This isn’t saying that one cause is more important to the next, because it is impossible to create a hierarchy of social concerns.  But nonprofits do have to find the best way to impact people enough for them to donate their money, time, or talent to the cause.  With such a saturated philanthropy market, any questionable activity or vagueness in money distribution could be the reason that a donor dismisses a charity.

All in all, straight forward is best.  Exposing your operations is key.  And not lying in a national bestselling book is preferred.

In light of this topic, Edge of Seven has posted our financial documents for public viewing on Guidestar.org.  Feel free to check them out!

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