(Image: Knight Foundation, Creative Commons)

Though it lacks the name recognition of more famous peers such as the Gates Foundation, The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) ranks among the most influential philanthropic organizations in the United States. Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and scores of other successful tech entrepreneurs have donated vast sums to the foundation, which currently possesses $13.5 billion in assets.

Last year, SVCF found itself in hot water over reports that organizational leadership had fostered a toxic workplace culture. Mari Ellen Loijens, the foundation’s chief fundraiser, sexually harassed and verbally abused her staff. She also allegedly utilized racist language and threats of violence on a regular basis. Workers brought Loijens’ behavior to the attention of Emmett Carson, then acting as SVCF’s CEO. Reluctant to push aside an effective fundraiser such as Loijen, Carson swept the situation under the rug despite the severity of the allegations.

Carson’s failed leadership caught up with him. He was forced from his job as SVCF’s board sought to mitigate the fallout from the scandal.

Less than one year later, however, and Carson is back at the helm of a major philanthropic institution. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles (underwritten by George Lucas) recently announced that Carson will serve as the museum’s chief operating officer.

SVCF employees have expressed shock at the hire. In an interview with Nonprofit Quarterly, an anonymous staffer questioned why the museum would hire a “man who showed no remorse and offered no apologies to the staff who were mistreated by the head of fundraising for years under his watch?”

This sentiment is reasonable. Organizations cannot simultaneously promote the social good while neglecting the welfare of their own staff. The proper treatment of employees begins with grounded leadership. By all accounts, Carson appears to lack the qualities necessary for effectively and ethically overseeing the management of a large institution.

While individuals can certainly learn from their mistakes, Carson has yet to publicly apologize for his negligence. His silence encouraged a group of SVCF staffers to sign a joint letter calling on The Lucas Museum to rethink its hiring decision. In order to promote compassionate and honest leadership in the nonprofit sector, the museum’s board would be wise to listen to professionals with direct experience working under Carson.


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