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Object lessons from the Genesis trial

By Jacqueline L. "Jackie" Ryle The Fresno Bee, p. B9 06/30/07 04:49:01

(http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/valley_voices/story/73758.html)

My life experience and working with countless nonprofit, charitable organizations over the past 35-plus years tells me that a strong, viable philanthropic sector is the foundation for a caring, thriving community.

From time to time, the experiences and circumstances of public and nonprofit agencies serve to remind us of the importance of having and adhering to effective, clear and responsible policies, practices and procedures.

The recent Genesis Group Homes experience is a case study that serves as such a reminder. In this example, whether or not there was intent or illegal practice, the cost to the agency, the individuals involved, the served populations and the community at large are the same -- loss of trust and confidence, financial costs and impacts on services that affect all the stakeholders, with far-reaching consequences. And it could happen in any organization.

Now is a good time for members of boards of directors and executive directors of nonprofit, philanthropic agencies to assess the strengths and challenges of their agencies.

A sincere desire to fulfill the mission and serve the needs of constituencies is not enough.

Success depends upon a strong, competent organization staffed and governed by well- trained, compassionate, knowledgeable individuals who are able to successfully fulfill the mission of the organization.

It is essential that board members and executive directors are clear on their roles and

responsibilities and that they fulfill those roles with energy and integrity.

Boards are the governing bodies of agencies. They set policy; provide governance and oversight; set expectations and require accountability; accept fiduciary responsibility, which is defined as knowing where all agency funds come from, where they go and what practices are used to assure transparent and appropriate transactions; plan for the future; generate funds and resources for the agency; monitor the success of programs; act as ambassadors for the agency; and evaluate the performance of executive directors.

Legal responsibilities

They have a legal and moral responsibility to participate, to be informed, and to support and carry out the mission.

Executive directors carrying out board policies, directing the day-to-day operation of the agency, administering the budget, keeping the board fully informed and acting as liaison among and between the staff and board, and the agency and the community.

The board and executive director must work together to jointly provide competent stewardship of philanthropic and public dollars, and to assure that the return on that investment results in the success of the mission and a stronger community.

It is essential to use good business practices, which include a published annual budget, an annual audit, record-keeping practices that assure that all records and transactions are kept in an orderly system and are immediately accessible, access to professional human resources and legal assistance that are used with diligence and professionalism and organizational practices which are efficient and effective.

For boards seeking new members: Have a current board manual, which clearly states what you will expect in terms of time, talent and treasure. Potential members should be clear on what kind of investment they will be making and what that investment will mean in terms of the reward of service and value to the community.

For community members seeking to serve on boards: Ask a lot of questions. Learn about the agency's mission, practices, services and impact on the community.

Ask about an adopted code of ethics, conflict of interest policies and how the budget is developed and used. Be fully engaged, attend meetings and functions sponsored by the agency; support the agency financially and become a cheerleader for the agency and its mission.

Whether you work for a nonprofit agency or serve on the board, know your role, fulfill it well, and make your contribution to a caring, thriving community.

Dr. Jacqueline L. “Jackie” Ryle, retired Fresno City Clerk, has been facilitating for nonprofit and government agencies for more than 35 years.