Who do I choke?

I’m just back from an excellent trip to Columbia and Nicaragua with some of our partner organizations (more on that in future posts). At dinner one night in Cartagena one of the others on the trip, who is a successful CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, commented on being at a meeting with some of the inside circle of a large charity and not being able to get a clear answer about who was ultimately responsible for the outcomes of the work. He stated his frustration with typical eloquence: “I just want to know, when something goes wrong, who do I choke?” It’s a great question. Often in the nonprofit world there is a tendency to lower standards and lesser accountability. This should not be. Knowing that charity leaders are usually passionately committed to work they believe has the potential to make a meaningful difference, the expectations should be a little higher than for those who only want to make money. I have to admit that this isn’t my natural bent. I’ve been as guilty of being soft in this area as anyone. I do expect the nonprofit world to treat staff with greater care and dignity than the sometimes cutthroat tactics of the market. The challenge is to maintain a radical orientation to mission such that we are absolutely committed to explicit outcomes and expect high level performance from people, even as we treat them very well. We should always know who to choke.