I for one am going to hold off on making any judgment on Greg Mortensen and his nonprofit organization Central Asia Institute (CAI). There are too many facts that I don’t know about. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in his column yesterday, “let’s not forget that even if all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children’s lives than you or I ever will.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/opinion/21kristof.html
But this whole issue does bring up a few points to consider.
For starters, nonprofits dominated by a celebrity or a person who becomes a celebrity such as Mortensen oftentimes don’t turn out very well. A high performing nonprofit needs to be bigger than one person if it is hopes to have impact and reach scalability.
The donating public loves charismatic celebrities, however, and the public acclaim is a great way for attracting public attention and money. This personal adulation puts additional pressure on the governance structure. For this to work right, behind every celebrity needs to be a tough, vigilant independent board that is reviewing finances, contracts, and mission goals and a responsible, high-performing management and staff with significant input into decision-making.
Secondly, it points out the need for nonprofits to be totally transparent and accountable in the work they do. Our GuideStar Exchange program is designed to award nonprofits that are committed to transparency and accountable with the valuable GuideStar Exchange Seal . It is a badge of distinction http://www2.guidestar.org/rxg/update-nonprofit-report/about-the-guidestar-exchange.aspx. The CAI board has started to release more information on its complicated finances, but it could be too little too late to catch up to the power of 60 Minutes. http://www.ikat.org/wp-includes/documents/boardstatement4-16-11.pdf. Organizations need to be up front and ahead of the issue.
Finally, this whole affair points out once again the challenges of judging the work of a nonprofit.
The preceding is a guest post by Bob Ottenhoff, Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.