Sexual harassment allegations. Introducing an immigrant with non-concrete citizenship status to Immigrant and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents. The unexplained loss of thousands of dollars. Cheering at a rally for Donald Trump.
These are the dilemmas that some Philadelphia nonprofits have had to answer to within the last year.
Generocity sought to explore how nonprofits facing controversy reestablish themselves as reputable, and experts agreed that they must remain transparent about their errors. But all of the nonprofits contacted for this story, some over several weeks, declined to have interviews about their past public fallouts.
The organizations are listed below, with a description of the scandal in question.
- The nonprofit’s former interim CEO, Stephen Glassman, was publicly accused of sexual harassment at the Philadelphia LGBTQ State of the Union in May.
- Prior to that, the center was criticized for its lack of transparency during the hiring of Lydia Gonzales-Scarrio as CEO. Gonzales-Scarrio does not identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, which the Mazzoni Center primarily serves, causing more scrutiny.
- Last year, former CEO Nurit Shein was petitioned to resign following allegations of fostering a discriminatory environment and poorly handling sexual harassment accusations against the center’s former medical director, Dr. Robert Winn, who stepped down last April 2017. Soon after, Shein left the center alongside board president Jimmy Ruiz.
New Sanctuary Movement (NSM)
- In March, the firing of three organizers — all immigrant women — rumbled the nonprofit. Sheila Quintana, Jazmin Delgado and Cynthia Oka said they were fired after raising concerns about the leadership of Peter Pedemonti, NSM’s cofounder and executive director.
- Quintana, Delgado and Oka said Pedemonti put one of the women at risk by introducing her to federal agents during a February protest in front of the local ICE office. He did this while knowing her citizenship status was not finalized, the three wrote in a public letter following their firing.
Congreso de Latinos Unidos
- Last May, after Carolina Cabrera DiGiorgio was seen cheering at a rally for President Trump, who is regarded by some as dangerous to Latino and immigrant populations, 20 immigrant advocacy organizations called for her to resign from her post as president and CEO of the nonprofit, which serves the city’s Latino population. She still holds this title.
Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA)
- Liz Robinson, the nonprofit’s founder and former executive director, resigned last summer after tens of thousands of dollars went missing at ECA. Board members said Robinson’s resignation and the loss of money were not connected. However, previous and current ECA staff members criticized Robinson’s response in a letter sent to the board in January, according to Philly.com.
Each of the organizations listed above released general statements closely following the events in question. NSM and Congreso both underwent a programmatic shift within the last year.
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“The past two months have been painful as we’ve felt the power of fire to consume and destroy. As a community, we invite you to enter this 40 days to discover the transformative power of fire. To help us grow, heal and move forward together,” NSM wrote in a May email launching its “Sitting in the Fire for 40 Days: Fast for Reflection, Healing and Rebirth” campaign.
An NSM employee declined multiple requests for comment about the campaign and its ties to the accusations of negligence against Pedemonti, who is still listed as NSM’s director on its website.
In January, Congreso updated its mission statement, declaring a focus on economic self-sufficiency and clients’ wellbeing. In an emailed statement to Generocity, DiGiorgio said the nonprofit’s programmatic adjustment is routine.
“With regard to my personal politics, yes, we did get a bit of a spotlight a year ago, however, while your topic is interesting we haven’t had to address it,” DiGiorgio wrote. “The exposure actually led to many positives and new relationships. As you might have seen our board issued one release last year in response to the media but we’ve not needed to address it otherwise externally.”
"If nonprofits can't win back their trust and respect, then they're not going to remain in existence."
Mazzoni and ECA have not announced new campaigns, nor responded to requests for comment. Two days after Glassman was accused of sexual harassment, a spokesperson for Mazzoni canceled a previously scheduled Generocity interview with Gonzales-Scarrio. He did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails requesting to reschedule.
Thomas Flaherty, a spokesperson for ECA, also declined to schedule an interview with Steve Luxton, the nonprofit’s interim CEO.
“We aren’t quite ready to discuss our reorganization and the events of 2017,” Flaherty wrote in an email. “I hope that in years to come we’ll reach a place of readiness to go back to these chapters of our history.”
Laura Otten, the executive director of the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University, said in an interview that nonprofits must uphold transparency if they want to move past public fallout.
“The first tactic to win back trust is to admit the error and then immediately to say, ‘This is what we’re doing to make sure this particular ethical violation doesn’t happen again,’ and ‘This is what we’re doing to make sure that we have a very strong culture of adherence to ethical behavior,’” she said.
Otten added that, generally, nonprofits are ethically sound, but more precautions could be taken to avoid debacles. She suggested organizations establish a code of ethics, incorporate ethical awareness in performance evaluations and have regular staff conversations about the importance of ethics.
As cofounders of Sage Communications, Barbara Beck and Sharon Gallagher have overseen the public image of social impact organizations during periods of scrutiny. They agreed that admitting to past mistakes is the best step an organization can take to rebuild public trust.
“If nonprofits can’t win back their trust and respect, then they’re not going to remain in existence,” Otten said.-30-
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