Resource Bullies

Friday, August 1, 2008 (All day)

Now and then in the nonprofit community a resource bully swaggers about throwing around their power. These sorts of folks – blessedly rare, but there to be reckoned with – present an ugly sight, embarrassing and infuriating at the same time. Resource bullies cleverly – sometimes maliciously – trade on inherent power imbalances that typically exist between the resource-providing organizations they represent and the nonprofits that raise and deploy charitable assets to fulfill a civic mission. They use their control of money or materiel to build themselves up and, subtly or otherwise, put down the folks whose job it is to translate resources into community good.

What’s the best way to deal with resource bullies?

One way is to avoid them altogether, though that’s not always possible in a competitive charitable marketplace. It’s always possible to kiss up to them by flattering their desperate egos and practicing the Zen of strategic subservience. Still, another way is to devise an elaborate work-around that either takes the bully out of the resource-raising equation altogether, or nullifies their influence.

Still, another way exists: call them out. Name their abusive behavior strategically. Shame them before the very people from whom their wounded psyches craves respect. Luckily, in the nonprofit sector, resource bullies often answer to board members or bosses or elected officials. Volunteer or paid, these are the civic stewards with the ultimate public accountability for the assets and the relationships that resource bullies too often sunder and abuse.

Civic stewards tend to take their jobs pretty seriously. They work hard to redress the imbalances between their organizations and nonprofits compelled to seek out the resources they control. The best of them disdain bullying carried out under the banner of their good names. At the very least, they act to handcuff resource bullies, limiting the damage they can do. So, what is the far better choice, in my view, for all concerned? Stewards with guts enough to give bullies a big civic shove out the door.