When I finally threw in the towel and gave up trying to help people who clearly didn't want to be helped, I resolved to adopt a "live and let live" approach towards those usually-genial but sorely misguided people. However, since I've learned these folks are still dragging my name through the mud, I feel the need to set the record straight.
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To make a very long story short, I did my best to avoid getting involved with the corporate governance of this operation. As an attorney at law, I know too well the perils of trying to run a non-profit corporation alongside folks who don't share my professional background and ethical responsibilities.
Nevertheless, after several years of social birding with Palomar Audubon, these folks kept pleading with me to get more involved by serving on their Board.
Sadly, however, after I relented and agreed to serve as a Palomar Audubon Society Director, I quickly learned that the folks who have been running Palomar Audubon Society for at least the past few years had precious little understanding of the seriousness involved in running any publicly chartered non-profit charitable corporation.
Among the problems I soon discovered were:
- A complete lack of any kind of training or indoctrination program for new officers and directors (which probably goes a long, long ways towards explaining all the other serious problems I found at Palomar Audubon Society)
- A propensity to willfully ignore the provisions of the corporation's Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws on the ground that it is just too much hard work
- Use of illegal email voting procedures for official board actions
- Complete lack of Board editorial control or oversight of the Society's official newsletters and website
- Failure to review and update the Society's Bylaws in over a decade as California non-profit corporation law and the federal tax code continued to change and evolve
- Inability and/or unwillingness to read and follow the corporation's simple Bylaws with respect to quorum rules, term of office for Officers and Directors, number of Board and Member meetings required annually, and many other crucial aspects of corporate governance
- Lack of proper notice for Board and Member meetings, and especially for the election by the Members of corporate Officers and Directors
- Lack of any long-term plan for recruiting and filling Director, Officer, Committee Chair, and Committee vacancies
- Public announcement of appointment of a new Conservation Committee Chair (arguably the most important non-elective position in this kind of conservation organization) without the required approval of the Board of Directors
- An embarrassing lack of sophistication and understanding of what it actually means to "partner" with another non-profit or agency in the conservation field
- An irrational desire on the part of some Board members to continue a donor relationship with the Wildlife Research Institute of Ramona (WRI) ... long after it was discovered that WRI director David Bittner had pled guilty to Federal crimes associated with the illegal taking of protected raptors
Fortunately, I subsequently found that my "election" was fatally flawed, and that I had therefore never actually been a legally constitued member of the Palomar Audubon Society Board of Directors. Great relief that!
Due to the ugly things that were said and done during the course of my brief time trying to serve the Members of Palomar Audubon Society, we have also completely withdrawn from having anything to do with Palomar Audubon Society. Which is actually quite sad, considering that up until this year -- and as lame as Palomar Audubon Society can be with respect to actual birding expertise -- Palomar Audubon Society had become a large part of our social life.
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Otherwise, I wouldn't presume to tell anyone what to do with their charitable dollars. However, I would recommend that before you donate significant funds to any non-profit, take the time to learn about the organization's management through research, and through direct observation of the non-profit's leadership at Board meetings and the like.
In addition, if you are ever approached to serve on the board of any non-profit, be very careful about who you're getting involved with. Many non-profits are professionally managed and beyond reproach. Others, however, are run with all the professionalism of a church bake sale. Or of a numbers racket.
Nor do the state Attorney's General tend to devote much in the way of resources to overseeing these ubiquitous organizations which have proliferated like fleas as unscrupulous individuals have come to recognize the naive generosity of many Americans who will unquestionably donate to anything or anyone labeled "non-profit."
Done right, non-profit board service is also very demanding work ... albeit work that one can rightly take great pride in if done well.
In the worst case, as a non-profit director or officer you may find yourself being held personally liable for the transgressions of the non-profit, or of your fellow Directors or Officers.
Bottom line: Be careful out there! As with many other aspects of life in this Brave New World, you're pretty much on your own nowadays.