CautionRecently posted a story on his blog that I believe is worth a read.  The organization profiled in the story, Kid Care, began as a labor of love, but ended abruptly after 18 years of service.

Its founders were not professionally trained in nonprofit management prior to starting their work.  They simply saw a need and decided to use their gifts to benefit others. They were very trusting and extremely hard-working.  This describes a lot of the people I personally know and have connected with online who are doing charitable work. Learning some lessons from this unfortunate story could prevent a similar disaster befalling your organization.

Carol and Hurt Porter Jr. ran a well-connected, million-dollar “model charity” in Houston -until it all came crashing down…Started in the kitchen of their modest northside house in 1984, Kid Care had grown spectacularly, feeding more than 20,000 a month in the nation’s first Meals on Wheels program for hungry children.

Full Story

The nonprofit did great work for the community and was very well known and respected.  But many factors led to its demise.  Some of these are simple traps that any nonprofit can fall into.  To me it highlights the importance of solid training in nonprofit work, having a responsible board who are educated about their duties and maintaining business-like practices.

Here are a few of the take-away lessons I found:

  • Key staff members should have professional training; have a budget for continuing education for all of your staff.
  • Provide training sessions for volunteers and board members.
  • Create clear policies to protect your organization, i.e. conflict of interest, and enforce them.
  • Always keep personal and organizational (business) expenses separate.
  • Work with legal and accounting professionals that are experienced in working with nonprofits.
  • Members of your board should be concerned about the mission, their roles and responsibilities and actively participate.
  • Be open to listening to wise counsel, discuss options when approaching a new project. Include staff, board members, nonprofit consultants, other nonprofit leaders in your area and other professionals so you make wise decisions for the future.
  • Have a plan of succession for key leadership roles; don’t fall into “founder’s syndrome.” The cause is not about YOU, it’s about those you serve.

I also find the story quite sad… the Porters sound like honest, caring people and their work helped hundreds of thousands of children and families.  Missteps in organizational management and the over-aggressiveness of a reporter and Attorney General ended what was once a thriving ministry.  (On a positive note, the Porters and their friends continue to provide food for the hungry on a more modest basis.)

You can read Don’s synopsis here (includes additional references) or the entire story on AllBusiness. It’s a long story, but I would highly recommend it!

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Posted on 02 November 2009

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