LESSON THREE: Know When to Fold ‘Em The legacy of a lifetime of serice has left my heart in a right place, full of the pulp of social justice and the vigor of righteous indignation. These are attitudes that put some people off and turn others on; they challenge the indifference pumped out in popular pedagogy by giving us a diverse narrative, one that isn’t reliant on consumerism or classism to determine relationships to power and authority. However, they also create a stubborn emphasis on fighting against aggressive failure, which hounds many of us who come from “challenging” backgrounds. What happened to CommonAction was neither aggressive nor swift; rather, it was a death of a thousand blows.
When the foundations who’d promised to materialize failed to in the early days of the organization I should have taken heed. When the contracts cleared and checks were sent but programs failed to sustain and adults lost interest, I should have noticed. When allies and colleagues who’d sounded determined failed to support I should have reacted. Instead I let the cards tilt and the machinations rust, allowing the house to tip and the machine to fall apart.
Nonprofit leaders have to know when to call the game, either for a failed program or a dieing organization. This is a grim reality that was ironically shadowed in my life, as I was watching the DVD collection for the HBO series Six Feet Under throughout the last year of CommonAction. I don’t regret folding, and I don’t regret starting the organization; however, these are lessons learned. This is the third of four postings.