As I scrolled through twitter this morning, I came across a tweet from one of the former editors of the Phoenix New Times detailing a story he had written. It was about how a non-profit in Kansas City had undergone a “coup” that was started by disgruntled ex-employees. This non-profit provided SANE nurses to help survivors of sexual assault. These are nurses trained specifically to help in sexual assault cases, hence SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner).
It reminded me of my time in the non-profit world and an attempted coup that almost happened where I worked. What was amazing to me about that whole situation is that our organization was built to do good things. Not only was it built to do good things and help the community, but it also did good things and helped countless people. My primary job there was to go into schools and facilitate programs with students to help protect them from sexual violence.
For over a decade I stayed true to this cause as a professional and would still be doing it today if there was funding for this sort of work. I suppose I could start a new agency or take over my old one and continue the work, but fundraising is definitely not my cup of tea. I digress, though, and really want to talk about what happened back in the early 2000s at my employer.
This article from Kansas City, which was well written (surprisingly) had some similar elements to the situation I was in. I was surrounded by people who were very motivated to do good in the community and, for the most part, were paid really well for the job they were doing. We had a ton of freedom, could kind of set our own hours, and got to spend time with students talking about real issues. What teacher-type person wouldn’t want to do that?
The trouble was that some people didn’t like decisions that were being made or how funds were being used. Several times, during the attempted coup, I heard people talk about how the executive director was often “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and how that wasn’t right. Most of the people saying these things, though, had no real idea of how much effort and finesse it took to run an organization the size of the one I worked for in those days.
My honest guess would be that just about every non-profit occasionally has to “rob Peter to pay Paul” in order to stay afloat, keep the lights on, and keep people paid. The funding comes in in chunks in the non-profit world and not always on time. It also depends on the whims, here and there, of people who manage the contracts and grants and sometimes they are dependent on the whims of state and federal agencies. Politicians like to hold up voting, too, on bills that fund these types of services, sometimes for months because they don’t like the way something is worded in the bill.
But people I worked with and like and, in one case, was related to decided that the executive director needed to go. I was asked to sign a letter to the board to help oust the ED. I never signed it. From my vantage point, while I had a lot of respect for the passion behind the power play and loved some of the people involved, it seemed to me that what they were doing was more of a way to stroke egos than make sure our work was able to continue in the community.
To me, the most important thing was always about helping children stay safe from sexual violence. I really didn’t care who I reported to as long as this mission was paramount to them, as well. The people I worked with who didn’t feel that way never lasted in their job. Working in sexual violence prevention is hard. You hear a lot of terrible things from children. You have to report crimes you know will probably go unpunished.
You have to smile and tell children you believe them when you know that incredible damage has been done to them. And you do believe them because what I know is that children very rarely lie about sexual violence. Unless they’ve experienced it, they simply don’t even know it exists.
I digress again.
In my experience with workplace coups, nothing good ever comes from them. I saw a few attempts in the call center world when I was working at different places, and they never manifested into anything positive. They create resentment and ruin trust. Even at work, you need to foster, build, and nurture healthy relationships. If you can’t do that, you’re working in the wrong place.
I wish the people in Kansas City well. Not the coup leaders and perpetrators, but the survivors who so badly need the services that were provided by the agency that is now defunct. This case will be litigated, but the damage is done. Funds that could have helped people will now go to lawyers and SANE nurses will be out of a job they probably love doing and have to go into other areas of nursing.
I know we badly need all the nurses we can get, but if you’ve ever spoken to a SANE nurse, you know how important they are and how much they value what they do. I encourage you all to learn more about how sexual violence is both prevented and handled in your state. You’ll probably be disappointed, but it is good to have open eyes when it comes to these matters. Every single one of us knows multiple people who have been sexually abused and/or assaulted.
Most of the time, though, they never tell anyone. They also rarely report it to the authorities or get the medical help they need. Many people don’t even know they have the option of working with a SANE nurse, for example. Someone who won’t judge them. Someone who just wants to help them heal.
See you tomorrow.