Lucy Bernholz is on the board of GiveWell, subject to a recent firestorm (or maybe a small birthday candlestorm), and has asked for some advice. Never one to shrink away from offering free advice,
As I watched this all unfold, I kept thinking that it is so appropriate to the organization-- openness means you get to see both the good and the bad. And more irritatingly for the board and staff, everyone gets to comment on it.
I also kept thinking about how far worse happens, but would never make it to the light of day in traditional organizations.
So how does one decide between the options you present? I suggest a few criteria:
- The magnitude of the offense. It is easy to imagine yourself a saint on the net and hold people to your saintly expectations. How bad is the offense?
- The quality of the idea. People tend to join start up boards because they believe in the idea behind the organization or the founder or better yet, both. So is the belief in the idea strong enough to wade in there when you no longer have confidence in the person?
- Rehabilitation. Some of us believe in locking up the criminals and throwing away the key. Others believe in rehabilitation. Seems like your own beliefs are a pretty big driver. The other angle of this is whether you believe the staff in question can be rehabilitated.
- Personal energy. Do you have the energy to clean up the mess?
- The rest of the board. No matter what decision you personally make, if you are the only one for rehabilitation or shutting the place down, then there is not much chance of a positive outcome.
The quality of the idea is extraordinary, IMHO. No one has done openness and transparency well or modeled it for others. You guys are doing a great job. Unfortunately, you are doing such a good job we get to see the bad as well.
I'm a big believer in rehabilitation. The antics really have me believing the whole ex-hedge fund storyline (I have a low opinion of the ethics of most big money players). But I don't know the man, so I'm not sure of the rehab-ability. But from what I've seen from afar, I would rehabilitate and brace myself for the next 1 or 2 of these and then watch some really extraordinary accomplishments roll out. Too often in the nonprofit sector, IMHO, we discount the high driven, high-performance, outcome oriented crowd because their methods and culture are so different ... and with social responsibility so sexy, lets take advantage of the 10 years we have these guys before they look around and see their peers all driving BMWs into the driveways of their 4 bedroom suburban houses and go out an make a couple million before they have to retire (OK, that was a little cynical).
If this was my only board, I would invest the energy. If I was on more than one, I wouldn't have the energy required and would hope other board members stepped up. An alternative might be to recruit a few additional quality people to the board since the idea is good, but the organization clearly can't be a personality driven creature.
So basically, were I on the board, appropriate sanctions and controls would be put in place and an opportunity to reform offered as long as the whole board stepped up and devoted the hours it was going to take, but that is just me.
PS Know that among the vitriol you have folks out here that are about as supportive as it gets. Keep up the good work :)