PR Crisis: Nonprofit Makes Up Board of Directors

By on Monday, July 7, 2014

A nonprofit organization in San Diego, Turn Our Hearts, got itself into  public relations trouble when NBC San Diego investigated its IRS filings and found out that the organization had falsified the list of Board of Directors on its 990 forms. Some of the prominent community leaders listed, had even declined to be on the board when asked, and were not aware of being listed as board members. The falsification led some to speculate that the nonprofit was not handling money well, if it could not manage its board list well.

The executive director left the organization in May and declined to answer any questions about the matter from the media. His departure left the organization’s co-founders and board chairman, to clean up the PR mess.  I was pleased to see him sit down and interview with television station, as sometimes nonprofits make a mistake when handling a situation like this and lockjam.

He attributed the problem to rapid expansion and poor oversight, and noted that since the NBC San Diego investigation began, the agency has tried to make amends. They sent letters of apology to the people who were wrongly identified as being on the board of directors, they began holding board meetings, instituted a conflict of interest policy, and filed corrected 990 forms with the IRS.

While the agency has made significant headway, they will need to sustain these changes going forward and work to improve how the organization is managed. This episode serves as a lesson to other nonprofits about the importance of paying attention to nonprofit management on multiple fronts.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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