This week I read about a nonprofit accused of losing sight of its mission and those it serves. The story reminded me of another nonprofit I read about months ago in similar straits. These stories provide lessons to those of us who work in or with nonprofits.

My mom is a breast cancer survivor so the cause is close to my heart. Even though it’s old news, it pains me to learn that Susan G. Komen For the Cure is going after nonprofits they perceive as infringing on Komen trademarks by using “for the cure” in their names. Komen’s general counsel said, “We see it as responsible stewardship of our donor’s funds.” I knew a percentage of my donation went to overhead and administrative costs, but I didn’t think it’d go to unnecessary lawsuits.

Or, maybe they are necessary? Reporting on the Komen lawsuits, the Wall St. Journal raised the issue of donor confusion. The article gave examples of donors contributing to the wrong charity because they were confused by look-alike names. It’s a fine line between helping donors send their money to the intended charity and funding a legal campaign to protect your brand. Donors don’t care about brand infringement, they care about the work you do.

However, malicious brandjacking is a different story. Many of us in the association/nonprofit community were appalled last year when we heard that a sleazy for-profit company had brandjacked the Trees for Troops campaign. Steve Drake, whose company manages the National Christmas Tree Association, reached out to the social media community for advice and later wrote about the lessons they learned — lessons every nonprofit should heed.

nonprofits mission leadership

flickr photo by docentjoyce

My second example of a group that may have lost its way: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report downgraded MADD to a “D” rating on an A-F scale earlier this year. A press release from the American Beverage Institute (ABI), admittedly a biased onlooker, provides some ugly numbers – a decline in revenue and spending on community programs, while salaries increased. Wikipedia, sourcing the organization’s tax forms, says MADD spent more than half its income on salaries in 2008.

The ABI said, “These financial changes reveal a shift in MADD’s mission. In the words of its founder, Candy Lightner, MADD “has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.” ABI and MADD will always battle, but the numbers don’t lie, nor, I assume does Ms. Lightner. An organization loses its way, goes off course and what does it get? “D” isn’t a failure, yet, but it’s pretty darn close.