We love a good scandal don’t we. In the charity world, we especially like scandals that involve numbers. Numbers help journalists who don’t give two licks about charity and what’s going on in the sector throughout the year hop in and create a story that has “weight” because it has digits in it.
Take a recent “scandal” in Vancouver with the Portland Hotel Society (inflammatory version here, defensive version here) where the leaders of one of the largest organizations in Vancouver, mainly government-funded, were forced to resign over questions being asked about some unnecessary expenditures. By all accounts the organization is “efficient”, according to the bogus admin ratio calculation at least, and has a fairly solid history of great programmatic delivery. Helping lot’s of people efficiently. Isn’t that what’s all about?
With charity, and publicly funded ones, there’s always more to it than that. Joel Bentley from the Peer Giving Ideas Blog wrote a good post around this titled the Double Standard where he discusses the need for context, if charitable scrutiny for government-funded organizations should be greater and the higher standard the public holds nonprofits too. It’s unfortunate that some of these bias’ exist but it’s even more unfortunate that the media, and our culture, love these scandal stories and often don’t care about context or other details.
What if we lived in a world where charities get praised for the work they do every single day. Work that helps single mothers care for their kids. Work that helps vulnerable populations find safety and security. Work that helps the lost and lonely find peace, solace and community. Charities where good, well-intentioned people work hard and make sacrifices for others and their communities constantly. I’m lucky to meet so many different people from so many organizations and while the sector isn’t perfect (what sector is) and people and organizations will make mistakes we shouldn’t be newsworthy when someone with an agenda or need for a story asks about spending.
One of Dan Pallotta‘s ideas was to start a lobby that fought for the nonprofit sector. To fight off poor journalism and take up slander claims. Fight for the public right to know what is actually going on instead of getting a spin job to get some clicks or move some papers. It’s a great idea but I think we are all responsible for this now and don’t need to wait for a lobby. We all have voices in our communities and in our organizations and I think we all need to be more vocal about our beliefs when fellow organizations and our sector gets dragged through the mud.
If you really feel Portland Hotel Society and others are in the wrong for doing what they did after reading multiple articles then so be it. But there will be another scandal, unfounded or not, and there will be a public outcry and our sector will suffer. Our organizations may suffer. You yourself may suffer. Wouldn’t you want to know that there were others with a voice ready to fight for you?