I think there is a special place in hell for people who take money to help those who risk their lives to serve the public, are in the military, or who are at-risk or cannot help themselves, and then use the money unethically, immorally, or for their own benefit. There is an even deeper (and hopefully very painful) level for those who actually exploit or harm children. CNN did a name and shame campaign last week on the worst charities – those that make a mockery of the very word ‘charity’.
The campaign raised some important issues for all of us working in drowning prevention, given the overwhelming prevalence of charities involved in the issue (as opposed to ‘for profit’ entities). Last week I talked about the importance of culture, and how focusing on the culture of an organization is critical to success. I think that the existence of unethical charities, which casts a pall over those doing amazing and largely selfless work, makes it even more important to stop, look at your organization and make sure the culture you are creating lands your organization on the ’10 best’ list instead of the ’10 worst’ list.
A reader recommended the website Charity Navigator to identify the best run and most effective charities. They include the Top 10 Best Practices for Savvy Donors which is a great checklist for the Board of Directors at all charities. If the ten best practices aren’t embedded in your organization, it’s time to take a hard look at your culture and your operating procedures.
Where do the drowning prevention organizations rank? They don’t. I typed in ‘drowning’ in the charity search and there were zero ‘rated’ and nine ‘unrated’ drowning prevention charities in the U.S. I know there are only a handful of financially viable drowning prevention/lifesaving charities globally. That tells me we aren’t getting enough traction, not attracting enough independent donors, to even make it onto the radar. Only one U.S. organization had income even close to $1m, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and most had assets of $0. That’s a serious problem since, as I’ve said it’s very difficult to implement programs, launch effective awareness campaigns, hire talented people and make real change occur with little or no money. Enthusiasm isn’t enough. We must have effectively run and influential organizations working on the issue – we need to be represented on the ’10 Best’ list within the next ten years.
What does that require?
- Passion – dedication to the issue – I think we all have that category covered.
- A deliberate and defined culture.
- A solid strategic plan.
- Start-up financing with a plan to create a sustainable revenue flow within three years.
- A diverse and talented team headed by a leader who understands both business and drowning prevention – and if you have to choose, I’d put business knowledge first.
- Patience and impatience. Patience because change takes time, and impatience because you must feel an urgency, an unwillingness to let the drowning rates continue at epidemic levels, and are willing to push the boundaries of the status quo and see real change occur.
Do you have what it takes?