In Part 1, we looked at this scandal through the lens of Penn State and the football program. Please check it out if you haven’t yet. Part 2 looks at this scandal through The Second Mile, the charity at the center of the scandal:
Alleged rapist and disgraced former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a charity to support at-risk children in State College, PA, in 1977. Using Sandusky’s considerable influence as a beloved figure in the community and presumably building some effective programs for young people, The Second Mile has grown to serve 100,000 children annually from all counties in Pennsylvania. Per the grand jury indictment that was released this week, Sandusky used this charity to select young boys, shower them with attention and gifts, and eventually rape them. Nice huh? Let’s get this out of the way real quick before moving on to what nonprofits, donors and community members can learn from this situation… That Sandusky would use his charity as a “farm system” to cultivate future child rape victims is the most reprehensible and amoral act I have ever heard of in my decade studying the philanthropic sector. If I were told the world was going to end tomorrow but I could save 99.99999% of the world’s population, he would be among the 00.00001% that I would leave behind.
Ok sorry one more “Eff you Sandusky” paragraph: I founded a charity in Boulder, Colorado, Sky’z The Limit, about 8 or 9 years ago. We provided recreational opportunities for young people with and without disabilities. We were real grass-roots. Basically I would send an email to parents saying, “We’re meeting at the bus stop on Rt. 36 at 5:00, going into Denver, grabbing dinner, going to the Nuggets game, and we’ll be back at 11:33.” Then about 20 kids and a few of my buddies would show up and off we went for a fun night out on the town. The parents trusted me, like many parents trusted Sandusky, with the welfare of their children. If I were doing that today, maybe only 18 kids would have shown up, or less, as a few parents may be freaked out by that freaking animal Sandusky, and thus, kids who were already isolated would be missing out even more on opportunities to grow. So, eff you Sandusky, you god-damn animal.
That felt ok. Thanks for indulging me. Anyways, what can the philanthropic sector learn from all this?
1. Nonprofit boards have to step up their game. If you are a member of an organization’s Board of Directors, you are legally and morally responsible for the oversight of the organization. I know you are a volunteer, and you have a full-time job and a family, and you may think that the Executive Director/Founder is an expert who needs no guidance, but you have a responsibility. You are the Executive Director’s boss. You cannot afford to be deferential or passive. You need to learn about the organization and be active in management of it, or you need not be on the board. If you are on the board strictly to have something good on your resume or to gain favor in the business or political community, you need to check yourself. An organization is only as strong as its board. Clearly, at The Second Mile, Sandusky did not have a strong board to manage him.
2. Donors: please be smart. We live in such a celebrity-driven culture that organizations with celebrity involvement get much more attention, and may appear to be doing better work than they really are. Jerry Sandusky’s status within the supposed-morality-mecca of Penn State allowed him to host desirable events, golf tournaments with sports stars, etc., but he was also using his status to bring boys to college and pro football games, shower them with gifts, and rape them. Take the time to study an organization and look past the glitzy aspects of fundraising and program initiatives. Look for substance, results, efficiency, and quality Board/Executive Leadership. Also, remember, you can find an organization’s financial records, charity rating, and other effective (though very un-glitzy) organizational measurements on-line (Try Guidestar and Charity Navigator).
That said, keep the faith people. Don’t let the Sandusky scandal sour it for the millions of people and organizations doing great work. Just do your due diligence and research before you invest your time, energy, or money into an organization. We’ll all be better off for it.