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Charismatic Leadership is Wonderful…

But Good Management and Transparency Are Key

By Bob Hazen

We’ve been sated these past weeks with news of Greg Mortenson—author of “Three Cups of Tea”—and revelations of his alleged mismanagement of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which he founded. I leave it to others to validate or repudiate the accusations, but I do laud Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times editorial for focusing on many of the positive things that CAI has accomplished. Over the past five years, Mortenson has provided a new narrative and a new set of possibilities for how to deal effectively with a part of the world in which we are imbedded but don’t understand the culture that comes along with it. He has inspired many of us. As a passionate, articulate, captivating visionary, he is the kind of person who often gravitates to the nonprofit sector. I know many of them here in Oregon and I believe we need to nurture and cherish them.

But this latest kerfuffle highlights the dangers of passion without proper support and leadership, unbridled enthusiasm without organization. There is no reason to expect that a self-proclaimed disorganized, world-wandering mountain climber would inherently have the skills needed to run an explosively growing multi-million dollar nonprofit. It may seem mundane, but the people behind it all—the board members, the finance departments, the program staff, the administrative staff, and the auditors—are the crucial elements which make these organizations a success and make them accountable.

We must all continue our efforts as both staff and board members to hone our skills and recognize that we all need expert advice, the latest information, transparency, clear thinking, and knowledge of the roles and responsibilities we face as board and staff in today’s rapidly changing world.

Three cheers for the charismatic Greg Mortensons of the world. But four cheers for all the people who implement the work of nonprofits and get things done in a thoughtful, responsible, and professional way and hold all of us to the high standards we deserve.

On a related note, Independent Sector recently launched a new online Resource Center for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, a comprehensive collection of tools for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations to enhance the accountability and transparency of their operations and ensure they operate in ethical ways. Check it out!

Bob Hazen is Director of the Executive Transition Services (ETS) program at the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. Over the past 10 years the ETS team of 16 interim directors has assisted over 200 area nonprofits with major transitions, providing highly experienced executive leadership when they needed it most.

This article originally appeared on the Nonprofit Oregon website. Reprinted with permission