Image is everything is a term all of us have heard countless times in our lives. It’s almost like if we can have a good image it erases all of the humanity, mistakes, and negative elements below it, leaving a “perfect” example of what we should all be.
Representative Anthony Weiner is the latest victim of this false representation in our society. I don’t think that it needs to be expressed that sending lewd photographs of yourself as a married man to another woman isn’t acceptable. I also don’t think it needs to be said that if you do that, there are consequences. Those photos are out there forever, and it is only a matter of time before they come back to you in the most inopportune time possible.
As a politician, image is everything. It is unfortunate, and really ridiculous, but it is true. Image is so important because the majority of people will never actually know you personally. They will never have the time to examine your personality, history, and attributes. Most of us see what the politician and his “handlers” want us to see unless the politician makes a mistake, as in Weiner’s case. Ignoring the obvious joke that could be made about Weiner photos, he has allowed us a glimpse at the ugly side of his humanity (again, no pun intended….) at the person beneath.
What does all of this have to do with nonprofit governance? Well, until we understand the importance of image and why it is there, we can’t understand what people do to protect it, and how it should be combated with transparency and accountability.
Weiner said that someone hacked into his twitter account and sent the photos. Even though he certainly should have known that he would eventually have to “man up” and tell the truth, he thought he would give that a try to see if he could minimize the damage to his all important image. He was taking the path of “take the least damage necessary to contain the situation” approach to the problem. This becomes an issue when it is found that he didn’t tell the truth, and he did in fact send the pictures. Now he has damaged his image in sending the pictures, and lying about it.
Politicians, business leaders, embezzlers, and otherwise dishonest people will do anything to protect their image. They don’t have the personal integrity to hold in the air their true accomplishments and virtues, so they must protect this façade at all costs. Businesses and nonprofits also have this issue. You stop at a store with fresh renovations before one that is falling down from disrepair. All other things being equal you would donate to an organization where 100% of the donation went straight to the cause, rather than one that 60% went to the cause, and the other 40% went to administrative costs. Mismanagement of funds or embezzlement in a nonprofit can be fatal. It can take years, if ever trust can be built back up with the public at a level that will foster donations again.
It is for these reasons that politicians, CEOs, and nonprofits will do just about anything that they can to keep their image clean. This includes making up stories about computer hackers, explaining embezzlement because the CEO was emotionally disturbed, and a business that dumps toxic waste paying off government officials or residents in the area. Some would say that the cost of doing these things is less than the results of the lack of trust (and business) that would come from the truth. My stance is that if there is complete transparency and accountability in the situation to begin with, these things would never happen, and therefore never have to be covered up. A nonprofit board and CEO must have a good open relationship with their clients, the public, and each other. There should be no surprises, any issues that come up will be very small in comparison, and can be handled in a collaborative way that will accomplish the best result.
There is every reason to maintain transparency in nonprofit governance. There is no reason in the world to be a Wiener about it.