What Can We Learn from the Boy Scouts?

I have worked with a lot of non profit organizations over the years.  The prevailing myth is that your non profit cannot survive if it does not have famous and/or wealthy and/or influential people on its board.  Thus, board members are selected not by the content of their character but instead by the size of their wallet or the amount of their influence.  And sooner or later this practice causes unintended and usually irreversible ramifications. 

For you see, someone who does not truly understand and support your non-profit’s original purpose will sooner or later superimpose their own purpose or the purpose of those who influence them.  Such is the case with the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America.

Whether you agree with their decision made on May 23, 2013, or not there are two things that are irrefutable: the people making the decisions were not basing their vote on the intent of the founders or the voices of the many members.  And, the votes of the few new to the group overrode the established voice of the many seasoned members.  And there is a lesson in those two facts.

Non-profits have a tendency to invite the influential to be honorary presidents or voting board members in the hopes of gaining influence; but, more often than you expect, the invitee is a poison pill, corrupting the leadership and the mission of the organization.  A non-profit organization cannot exist without a board; but how that board is selected and the powers they wield can be narrowly crafted or broadly granted.  An experienced attorney or seasoned non-profit director can assist you or your organization in drafting a management format which can put the decision makers working either independently of, or subject to, the visible marketing or fundraising members.  Obviously, how the board is structured and how votes are weighed can make a big difference over the long term.

Aside from the Boy Scouts I have seen rogue board decisions cause utter implosion or drastic morphing change to private schools, churches, successful ministries, and even large public companies.  When a small group of people of like mind get into control, whether it was originally their organization or not, they seldom relinquish control before changing the organization to operate the way they think it should.  So the lesson to be learned from the Boy Scouts is: draft your management documents in a way that either the founders or majority of members can’t lose control; or in such a way that rogue directors can easily be removed at the first glimpse of them changing the path of the organization away from its intended purpose, before they can vitiate or eviscerate the moral fiber of the organization.