Flameout: Revisiting staff-Board relations at Hothouse

A report by Curtis Black of the Community Media Workshop suggests imminent disaster for Hothouse, Chicago’s nearly 20-year-old center for alternative music and performance.  In a posting in October ("The Board Always Wins"), the Nonprofiteer reviewed published accounts of the battle between the Hothouse Board of Directors and Founding Executive Director Marguerite Horberg, and used the situation to point out that the people ultimately responsible for the institution’s debts are the people whose decisions are entitled to ultimate deference.

Well, yes.  But.  One hopes that "ultimate" doesn’t have to mean "concluding," as in "final," as in "The Last Days of Pompeii."

The Board was utterly within its rights to fire Horberg and may even have been correct as a matter of policy; the Nonprofiteer knows only what she reads in the paper and trusts little of that.  But once you’ve fired your ED so you can take your agency in a different direction, you’d damn well better make sure the agency actually moves.  Failing to apply for a grant (after the funder asked you to!), spending a tax reserve fund for operating expenses, and allowing a financial crisis to balloon while programming collapses all sound less like moving than like falling in place. 

What could possibly have been the point of shoving aside the executive if the Board wasn’t prepared to step into her shoes?  As it is written, "Lead, follow or get out of the way."  In the for-profit sector one might suspect a financial motive for trashing a business–so it could be purchased at a discount, say–but no such motive leaps to mind when dealing with a nonprofit.  There’s nothing to loot: the only asset most nonprofits have is goodwill (in the business sense–reputation and clientele).  Destroy that, and all you’ve got is 20 years down the drain.

The Nonprofiteer said the Board always wins; she didn’t say the agency always does.  What a shame.   


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One Response to “Flameout: Revisiting staff-Board relations at Hothouse”

  1. Merlin22 Says:

    But immediate experiences in themselves, however various and disparate they be, are logically incapable of contradicting each other. ,

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