Tuesday, May 31, 2005

An Ethical Dilemma

Imagine you're a recent college graduate working at a relatively well-known nonprofit headed up by a very creative and charismatic CEO. The nonprofit is doing great things, making a difference in many people's lives. Funds are flowing in, and the nonprofit and its CEO are getting a fantastic amount of favorable press and public goodwill. In short, the nonprofit couldn't be more successful, and you're just thrilled to be a part of it all.

Then, one day, you begin to notice inconsistencies in the finance department. You dismiss it at first as something you don't understand. It would seem your CEO is skimming money off the top. Impossible, you think, he'd never do something like that, but the thought stays with you. Eventually, a pattern emerges, and you and a like-minded co-worker confront him about it. He tells you that you have no right to tell him how to run his business. You respond that it's not really his business; it's a nonprofit. The conversation doesn't go much further, and you're both told to get out of his office. You arrive the next morning to find out that the nonprofit is restructuring, and your jobs have been eliminated.

You consult a sibling who also happens to be a lawyer and find out that you could pursue this but at a great cost not only to you but to the nonprofit and to the cause it is a part of. You believe in the cause. You believe in the nonprofit, and, until recently, you believed in the CEO, too.

Do you rat out this CEO even if it means that the ensuing scandal would shut the nonprofit down?

My answer: absolutely - if for no other reason than the CEO is counting on your silence. He's counting on the fact that he can hide behind his supposed philanthropy. He's counting on your altruism and the altruism of thousands of others who are prepared to overlook his faults in the name of charity. He's counting on charity - and he doesn't deserve yours.

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