Published on July 10, 2017 by Huffington Post
Words are wonderful. Together, they can inspire and uplift, they can be a catalyst for change, and they can also be used to hurt and destroy. My job is to write, in every position I have held, it has been the one asset that set me apart from my peers. I have always taken it very seriously because I know that someone can sue you for defamation if you get it wrong or run completely on emotion. The more you defame someone in an effort to gain support, the bigger the fish you are to fry in a civil suit, particularly if you represent an nonprofit or charitable organization.
I have worked for 501c3 nonprofit organizations and state registered charities from the time I was 20 years old. I have served as the Director and Assistant Director of research centers and think tanks, worked in tandem with public relations teams, and even served as an Executive Board Member At-Large of the Women’s Caucus of my state chapter of the Young Democrats of America. In over 20 years, my career experiences have taught me the one skill every administrative officer of an organization should master: how to finesse the press and address unflattering media coverage.
The best code of conduct for handling such a crisis is to acknowledge shortcomings, admit to wrong doings, impart a set of solutions, and direct people toward the positive outcomes. The worst code of conduct in this manner is to attack people individually, or in groups. Many think this is okay because they see President Trump do it daily, but know he’s not operating in the real world. If you, as a named officer of a nonprofit, engage with the media and other individuals the same way, know that you will reap the repercussions for your behaviors. Essentially, that bad decision can backfire, make your organization suffer and you will be forced to own all of that. This is what hurts nonprofits the most—- thin-skinned leadership. When you accept the leadership role offered, you also accept the responsibility that goes along with being a leader and that includes, sometimes, getting bad press. If you cannot control or manage your emotions, it is best not to respond. This is not a time for being impulsive. This is a time, however, to reflect on the ethical and legal ramifications of your behavior and how deeply your organization will be impacted by a defamation suit where not only the nonprofit is listed, but individual officers are also named.
When you are listed as an an officer, a President, Vice President, Director, Assistant Director, CEO, COO or any other position, even if you are a volunteer in charge of fundraising for a nonprofit, you can’t just go online and begin shooting off at the mouth issuing threats because someone wrote something you didn’t like; it’s not ethical. You definitely don’t threaten to “strangle” any media person covered by the first amendment with your “bare hands,” or threaten to uproot their child from a loving home when you have no evidence of how they are taken care of; that is illegal. You especially don’t even broach this subject if your only proof is they wrote something that hurt your feelings; that’s ridiculous and filing a false report to child services is a punishable crime. New England states, particularly, have very stringent laws with regards to this. If you are reckless and irresponsible enough as the leader of a nonprofit to do so, that media person should have you reported, file charges on behalf of the child and have a social media order of protection put in place to protect the minor. Adults don’t threaten children. Grown men don’t threaten little girls, and nonprofit professionals definitely don’t threaten anyone and expect it to not be reported to both the IRS and the state Attorney General after it has been reported to law enforcement.
As a writer, if I gather together all of the social media rantings and harassment of individuals at the hands of a nonprofit officer, say the Vice President of an animal rescue, and turn it into a story about cyberbullying, that is me doing my job. If the VP of that rescue threatens to call child protective services to remove my child, tell everyone how I was violently assaulted five years ago today, or expose “family” secrets of people he believes are my relatives, but are not, just to prevent me from continuing to investigate the nonprofit’s activities and to soothe his ego over some writings that may or may not be mine, he is not acting as a proper leader or with the best interest of the nonprofit in mind. His threats of exposure will not repair whatever damage is done to his image or that of the organization he represents. It also won’t stop most writers from doing their job, either. In the end, it just makes him look like a big bully and ultimately the words he’s used and how he’s used them in an attempt to control another individual will do him more harm than good.
This is where I find myself today as a writer who worked in the nonprofit sector for many years. The aforementioned scenario isn’t just a hypothetical, it is happening in real time where the Vice President of a 501c3 in California has taken to social media threatening to “expose” my “skeletons” when in truth he knows very little about me except that at one time I taught at Southern Connecticut State University (2009-2010) and that I have quite a few publications, a fact he tries to minimize because if people knew I have over 100 publications in the last two years alone, everything he’s said about my credibility would fall apart. The truth is, I don’t keep secrets. I worked with enough politicians to know that secrets get you in trouble, Anthony Weiner can attest to that. But, when you unveil your own, no one can do you any harm; their words don’t matter and you are free from any type of fear they believe to have instilled in you. So, full disclosure about me and the very things that nonprofit VP believes can hurt me or shut me up, even:
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