Nonprofits shouldn’t be non-professional

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Itís not enough to have a beautiful heart.

As the latest headline-grabbing incident of suspected embezzlement indicates so dramatically, having passion for a particular cause isnít sufficient to serve on a nonprofit board of directors. Credentials must go beyond that.

Embezzlement is the base of the iceberg. A longtime local consultant to nonprofits estimates heís aware of 50 or more cases of embezzlement of more than $1,000 over the past three decades. He said one organization was hit three times in five years.

Another person, a longtime leader of nonprofits, exceedingly well-respected, wrote this after the North Idaho Housing Coalition crisis came to light: ďSadly, lots of incidents like this never hit the public because the nonprofit doesnít want the donors to think badly of them. But it happens more than youíd think.Ē

To make it happen less, our nonprofit boards need to do more. Ed Morse, a former state legislator with a law degree and an MBA, called last week on members of the NIHC board to be replaced. Embezzlement is horrible in any circumstances, he reasoned, but itís even worse when it involves theft of taxpayer dollars, as is alleged to have happened with NIHC. More moderate perhaps but also wise, longtime civic leader Len Crosby today calls on organizations and their officials to insist on meeting legal and ethical standards of board service.

There are literally hundreds of nonprofits in the five northern counties, some with no employees and some with many. Those with boards of directors typically attract people with a passion for the organizationís mission; in some cases, that seems to be the personís best if not only qualification. There needs to be more.

A number of boards have members who write big checks but may or may not attend many meetings. Thatís not good enough.

Some boards struggle to follow Robertís Rules of Order, let alone ensure their fiduciary responsibilities are consistently being met. Thatís not good enough.

Some organizations, sorry to say, have the best intentions but are disasters waiting to happen ó or to have their disasters exposed. Thatís just not good enough, either.

Because nonprofits serve such a vital role in this and every community, and because qualified volunteer board members are hard to come by, leaders of these organizations must take more responsibility to ensure their boards are well-trained and in tune with the organizationís mission. Before pitching in a penny, donors should insist that nothing less will do.

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