01/18/07 — Oversight: Keeping organizations healthy takes more than good intentions

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Oversight: Keeping organizations healthy takes more than good intentions

The story surrounding the failure of The Lighthouse is a sad one. It is an example of good intentions not quite being enough to live up to the enormous requirements of keeping an organization functioning.

In other words, wanting to stop domestic violence and wanting to help victims of domestic violence are not enough. You have to be able to create an organization that can attract funding, manage it and keep it.

There are many who can say they had a hand in the success and eventual failure of The Lighthouse — well-meaning people who might not have realized how deep a hole they were in or how to get out once they found themselves there.

The good work they have done in the past is not negated by the situation that has unfolded over the past few months.

And there are pats on the back that are deserved, too. The current board is made up mostly of people who walked into the mess — and are doing the best they can to clean it up.

It could not have been easy to make some of the decisions they have had to make. Those who have made the tough decision to close The Lighthouse and start over are not against the work that has been done to date or uninterested in helping domestic violence victims.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

They want to see an organization that earns the public’s trust and support — and still is able to pay its bills and provide the services this county needs.

But as tough as it is to talk about, there are some issues that need to be raised with regard to The Lighthouse that could help make sure nothing like this ever happens again to an organization that does so much good in the county.

There is no reason that the problems with The Lighthouse should have gone on for so long unnoticed. There were checks and balances in place that seem to have failed. That is a lesson we could translate to other organizations that handle public money and private donations. Keep watch and don’t be afraid to speak up if you see a problem — and if no one is listening — speak louder.

Getting people to volunteer to be on boards is not easy. One reason is the time factor involved — and the other is moments just like this. These are critical positions. Agreeing to be a part of an organization like this is a public trust. Those who do volunteer are agreeing to guide and watch over the future of an organization — and to provide a safe stewardship for the efforts of those who have worked to get the organization to that point.

The Lighthouse will be back in a new form — stronger and with the same mission. But the lessons learned from this experience should make anyone who works with a volunteer group or other organization take a closer look at where their group is going, where it has been and its bank balance.

It is a hard, but valuable, lesson to learn.

Published in Editorials on January 18, 2007 7:52 AM