When a Nonprofit Closes its Doors
Though it has not gotten much coverage in the mainstream media, last week’s announcement that Exodus International would be closing its doors has generated considerable interest and discussion at least in the evangelical blogosphere. Without getting into the theological or political rational for this move, I see at least two take-aways from this decision for other nonprofit organizations.
In announcing the shuttering of Exodus International, a Christian ministry devoted to helping people overcome same-sex attraction, President Alan Chambers pointed to shifting cultural attitudes toward homosexuality. This week’s Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 are only the latest evidence of these changing attitudes. Even within the evangelical community, there is at least a growing awareness of the need to address the matter with more compassion than condemnation.
In his book on leadership, (which I reviewed here last week) Ralph Enlow posits that one hue in the successful leader’s palette is ecological leadership. Leaders must understand that “that the success of their efforts may depend heavily upon their ability to read the signals of culture and climate and to foster conditions that permit prospering and productivity.” Neither Enlow nor I are suggesting that faith-based organizations simply cave to the prevailing winds. But it is essential that nonprofits, like businesses, adapt their message and methods to the current environment. The century-old Girl Scouts face similar challenges. Society is not what it was when Juliette Low conceived the organization to provide greater opportunities for girls’ physical, mental, and spiritual development. Even the Apostle Paul adapted his message for his audience, becoming “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save” (I Corinthians 9:22).
Christopher and Dorothy Greco’s eulogy for Exodus points to an even more serious problem that can contribute to an organization’s downfall: hypocrisy. They charge that Exodus’s “success” stories were often placed in positions of leadership for which they were not adequately prepared and/or mentored. As a result, their inevitable lapses not only gave Exodus a black eye, but called into question the benefits of the reparative therapy they espoused. Integrity is critical to an organization’s longevity and influence. In an age when sophisticated marketing seems essential to survival, the temptation to promote the organization in glowing, if not entirely accurate terms is considerable. But when the public image is revealed as façade, the damage can be irreparable. Not only must the organization deliver on its product, its leaders need to exemplify the character and value of the organization.
Can organizations come back from such missteps? History tells us they can. Next time we’ll look at how some businesses/organizations learned from their mistakes and came back stronger.