Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Nuclear Option

I don’t have a lot of pithy things to say about the Firehouse / Carol Piersol train wreck. And I use that phrase purposely. Like a train wreck, the situation seems to have come up suddenly, gone out of control terribly, and people have been hurt needlessly.

Here’s what I know: non-profits are challenging organizations to run. Even in my limited and relatively short experience on the one non-profit (educational) board that I served on, I was gobsmacked by the complexity of issues I faced and the sheer number of decisions that I was forced to make that seemed to have no clear-cut right answers.

Having said that, I can think of at least a dozen different ways to do what the Firehouse Board says it wanted to do and it seems to have picked the very worst way to do it. Given that, you have to wonder how skilled this particular team of people is to lead such an organization. A transition of leadership is inherently fraught with complications and lends itself to awkwardness. But there is a light year's worth of space between ‘awkward’ and ‘train wreck.’

Sure, the Firehouse is more than Carol but Carol is the heart of the organization. And you don’t rip the heart out of anything and expect there will be no repercussions. In a worst case scenario, you rip the heart out of something and it dies. Usually rather abruptly.

This is the leverage that supporters of Carol currently have. The Firehouse is also a business and businesses run on money. To torture the metaphor a bit, to get the point across to the people that matter that the heart has been ripped out of the Firehouse, make sure that the blood supply is restricted. Listings of the people and organizations that give money to the Firehouse are easy enough to obtain.

Those of you who support Carol have power. You have numbers. The story erupted on social media but this is a situation where influence is best applied interpersonally, through emails and texts directly to people who can do something about it, through phone calls, even through visits to homes and offices.

But to borrow a phrase, with power comes responsibility. The Firehouse Board clearly failed at negotiation. Carol’s supporters can and should do better. A vehement and concerted campaign that reaches out to those who fund the Firehouse is a nuclear option. It could cripple or destroy the organization. Wield it if you must but wield it with care.

In the meantime, I join those who wish Carol and Morrie the best. Carol has done amazing things at the Firehouse. Perhaps more relevant than her professional achievements right now, though, is that she has always been (to me, at least) an open, fair, level-headed, creative, enthusiastic, collaborative, and supportive professional. And, even though I don’t know all of the intricacies of what happened and why, it angers and bewilders me that she has not been treated with the courtesy and respect she deserves in this situation.

My understanding is that the Board is meeting again tonight. I hope they understand (or I hope they are helped to understand) the importance of the decisions they make at that meeting.

UPDATE: I believe I was wrong: I hear that the Board met this morning. And I haven't heard what, if anything, was discussed or decided.