Midtown Raleigh News

YWCA board let us down

I’ve seen the inner and outer workings of many boards of directors in my day.

Some have been strong and effective, others weak and destructive.

With the abrupt closing of the YWCA on East Hargett Street on Feb. 29, notably the last day of Black History Month, the board directing operations of the organization with a legacy of 110 years working to empower women and eliminate racism falls into the latter category.

That’s not to say the board members individually are bad people. I wouldn’t know. I do suspect, however, that collectively their lack of attention, training and community-connectedness failed the mission they are charged to uphold and the people they’re charged to lead and serve.

From the looks of it – wobbly economy and hard-to-come-by grants notwithstanding – this board simply gave up. And that’s rare.

Of course, at the time of this writing, nobody knows or is saying what really went wrong, how things got so bad, both fiscally and organizationally, and why, it seems, nobody who could and wanted to do something about it did, or even knew they needed to.

I suspect there’s a reason so many answers remain elusive, for now.

Meanwhile, the onus lies with the 11-member YWCA board. Ten members vote; the 11th is YWCA Executive Director Folami Bandele, an ex-officio member.

The former head of the YWCA’s Racial Justice programs, Crystal Hayes, nailed it during a community meeting Monday to discuss the Y’s closing, calling the Y’s programs for the 12,000 children, families, adults and senior citizens it serves “survival programs.”

“There was a way to do this with dignity and grace, and you failed miserably,” Hayes said.

YWCA board members are elected by members 15 and older to three-year terms, and they can serve two consecutive terms. The candidate slate for the YWCA’s board of directors is drafted and submitted by a seven-member Association Nominating Committee and is approved by the overall board before voting.

An open letter to the board, signed by 15 YWCA employees laid off with barely a day’s notice, charges: “You committed an act of emotional and psychological violence against the very community we all promised to honor and serve. You shamed the legacy and name of the YWCA, planted seeds of doubt and suspicion, and pulled the rug out from under thousands of community members.

“You forgot that this YWCA really belongs to the members and is accountable to the community, particularly in Southeast Raleigh.”

The letter urges “high-quality training about serving on a non-profit Board of Directors, particularly on fiduciary responsibilities and management and fund development,” among other things.

Bravo!

An effective nonprofit board plans and sets policy through leadership and strategic planning, monitors itself and its programs, and is ready to respond to issues that affect the agency and its services. It also embraces its community to expand its base of community support, is accountable to funders, members and clients, trains and develops its board and committee leaders, and advocates for professional staff development. Thirdly, effective board service requires time, energy and a willingness to lead and support fundraising initiatives through connections with donors, members and community supporters.

Boiled down, a well-informed, well-trained YWCA board passionate about its mission and connected to its community would not, should not, have gotten to the point of closing the doors on a legacy of public service.

Budget deficits, like anything that pushes an organization under, generally don’t happen overnight. Maria Spaulding, the board president, already said the dire straits of the YWCA were clear in October. There were cuts and layoffs then, followed by more layoffs in December and mid-February.

Why weren’t remaining staff members, parents, seniors and so many others told they’d better rally or find another spot? Why didn’t the Southeast Raleigh community get a chance to try to dig deeper than the deficit, much like it did decades ago to purchase the land where the Y sits?

That’s not the kind of transparency that gains public trust.

That’s not clear, certain communication with workers, clients and community constituents.

That’s not effective leadership. Without that, we’re all left in the cold.

What the YWCA board should have known is Southeast Raleigh and its supporters in Midtown and beyond know how to rally for its own – and each other.

Journalist and community advocate Cash Michaels noted the déjà vu of Shaw University’s near-demise in 1986 when the financially strapped institution nearly fell prey to developers.

“You didn’t let it go down, did you? Shaw University is still there, isn’t it?” he quizzed the crowd of about 160 gathered for the community meeting at Martin Street Baptist Church. “Who saved it? You did!”

Now that we know, we’re rallying around the YWCA, its displaced clients and laid-off workers.

Too bad there’s so much catching up to do.

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