Resolved: That charities be encouraged to take their complaints public


January 02, 1995|By LESTER A. PICKER

Each year I probably waste a lot of readers' time by writing about New Year's resolutions. I mean, who really wants to know what another person plans to do differently, better or not at all in the coming year?

I find that most people forget their own resolutions in about two or three weeks. OK, a month at the most. Your friends, to whom in a moment of bravado or weakness you reveal your resolutions, usually forget what it was you told them in a couple of hours. If they're over 45, maybe even 10 minutes.

With that as fair warning, the following contains columnist resolutions and wishes, so you may want to turn back to some of those sports stories you just skimmed.

* Resolution 1: Extend the Forum.

One thing I am especially proud of is how responsive people involved in the charitable sector are. Each year I get lots of letters, and even more telephone calls, from readers. Some agree with my views on philanthropy, others disagree, and still others want more information or suggest areas I should cover. Reader feedback is vital to a columnist, and every columnist I know welcomes these bonds with their audience. I know I do.

This year, though, one of my resolutions is to have some of those responsive readers take their comments a step further, especially if they disagree with my views on a topic, or want to take me to task for misinformation I wrote.

A newspaper is one of the last great public forums we have in our democracy. If nothing else, letters to the editor and opinion articles make people aware that certain issues are vital and dynamic ones to key individuals and groups. The nonprofit sector is no exception.

It frankly surprises me that there is so little informed public debate in our editorial pages on nonprofit issues, other than those written by journalists. This concerns me for two reasons.

First, I firmly believe that the nonprofit sector in Maryland makes a critical contribution to the social and economic fabric of our community. Second, the nonprofit community, on a regular basis, complains about lack of attention to their sector. While I agree with some of their complaints, I also believe that more than a fair share of that is self-inflicted. Judging from The Sun's editorial pages, anyway, the silence of nonprofit leaders is deafening.

In 1995, I resolve to encourage people who write and call me to also make their case in a letter to the editor or an Op Ed piece. Let's extend the public forum on the critical nonprofit sector to the editorial pages of this newspaper (and others, too).

* Resolution 2: Shorten Response Time.

I try to get back to every letter writer or phone caller. I really do. But I admit I'm not always successful. This year, at the very least, I'm going to shorten the response time.

While this resolution is always a balancing act between business and personal responsibilities, it also stems from a letter writer who requested a meeting on a rather sensitive issue. Unfortunately, I buried it along with a stack of books waiting to be reviewed for this column. Next thing I knew, it was six months later. When I finally called the gentleman, he thought my call was from the Twilight Zone. The issue had been not-very-favorably resolved. My explanation that I would not have been able to help anyway, given the circumstances, had no effect on the writer.

This year my goal is a two-week response time, max. All right, four weeks at the outside.

* Cardinal Resolution 3: Deadlines.

I will never, ever, be late for my newspaper deadline throughout 1995. The only exceptions will be on days when nothing else is going right for my editor, and he's already late leaving for family vacations or his wedding anniversary.

Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore 21202; (410) 783-5100.

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