What’s Really Wrong with the Boy Scouts

There’s been much ado about the Boy Scout’s potentially overturning its policy of admitting gay scouts and scout leaders. The executive committee took the very brave position today of pushing the decision off until their annual meeting in May. It’s complicated, they said. Readers of this blog have probably already inferred my reaction to a statement like that! It isn’t complicated, you’re making it complicated, but finding a rationale to continue this immoral practice that puts the organization out of the mainstream of American life will take some creative thinking, I suppose. (Cass Sunstein does a great job here of explaining why the Boys Scouts position of banning gays is immoral and not unconstitutional.)

But I am going to put all of those issues aside to comment here today about one aspect of the story about the Boy Scout’s deliberations that I find hard to swallow. When I read about the board meeting the other day, this sentence jumped out at me:

The meeting at a hotel near Boy Scouts headquarters in Irving, Texas, is closed to the public.

A few years ago, I was researching the legal requirements for nonprofit boards; what were they required to make public (like tax returns) and what could they choose to keep private (like personnel records).  I went right to the source, BoardSource that is, and learned that board meetings and minutes do not have to be made public – not even upon request. The exceptions are organizations receiving a certain amount of direct public funding. But all nonprofit organization receive public support – that’s what being tax exempt adds up to – one, big public subsidy for work that provides a public good. Why should boards hide behind closed doors? And even if they do, why should the minutes of those meetings also be hidden? Anyone who has spent five minutes in a board room knows that discussions about personnel are taken up in executive session where minutes aren’t taken. Why even require minutes, then? Of course, boards could choose to meet in public and make their minutes available.

Cass Sunstein’s terrific article has a role in this discussion of boards as well. Even if it isn’t required by law, taking  governance out from behind the fortress walls is the right thing to do. What are boards hiding from? Critics and criticism – better to hear it directly than to hear it online somewhere else. Are they concerned that board members will not be open and forthright in their comments. That’s their job! It would be great if a critical mass of nonprofit organizations took a stand on this and decided to hold all of their board meetings in public and to post their minutes online.

Governance needs sunlight! Who is willing to step up to the plate?



About the author

Allison Fine


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  • Allison – 
    I always love your viewpoint on things. And so I am happy to share that Creating the Future is doing what you suggest, and way beyond. We not only hold our board meetings as Google hangouts for anyone to watch, we encourage participation by anyone watching, via Twitter hashtag #CTFuture. 

    All our internal planning meetings are open in the same way – including our resource development and branding meetings. 

    This is a big part of our mission as a living laboratory – to not only identify what creates change, but to demonstrate what those new ways of operating look like, encouraging others to learn along with us.  In this case, one of the many things we are demonstrating is that  much of what people believe must be hidden actually does BETTER when it is open.

    Of course that all has to do with whether one sees their org as a stand-alone being that must survive, or part of a movement to create real change. The latter figures out what works for the cause, the former figures out what works for its own survival. It is hubris to think that causes and movements need closed organizations with boards and rules – causes throughout history have done fine without such creatures.  Causes require linking arms, full participation – which is anathema to keeping one’s doors closed and one’s affairs to onesself.  We cannot simultaneously shut the doors and reach out to link arms.

    And so this effort is not about “transparency” – which suggests a barrier that is simply see-through.  It is instead about open engagement and participation. No barrier. Come on in, have some coffee, let’s chat.

    Tomorrow is our Feb board meeting. I hope you’ll come do just that!
    (Info is here http://blogs.creatingthefuture.org/walkingthetalk/2013/02/08/board-meeting-february-2013/ and throughout that blog if you’d like to join us)

  • The problem is this problem is complicated. Mormonism is so intertwined with boy scouts. So we have this problem here

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