The unfolding story of Dr. Burnette’s departure as Newfield’s CEO, after only 14 months, is garnering overwhelming interest across the community.
Most longtime leaders in the non-profit sector have been through public relations crises, and it’s never easy, especially when it is a top news story. Even when it’s not you or your organization under fire, the risk is always there.
Much of the public outcry has been focused on concerns of racism. It is unclear what exactly transpired.
What is clear is a failure of board governance and a lack of transparency in communications.
By all accounts, Dr. Burnette was building strong relationships in the community, and was recognized as one of 250 influential leaders in the state. Without evidence of an ethics violation, fraud or mishandling of finances, it is disconcerting that she would exit her role so abruptly and so soon after her hiring.
A non-profit Board’s role is to hire a CEO, set the strategic vision for the organization and ensure fiscal solvency. Dr. Burnette’s sudden departure, the mishandling of this PR crisis by the Newfields Board of Directors, and the public outcry is a thunderous alarm for all non-profit leaders.
Leading a non-profit, especially as a woman is a challenging endeavor. Women leaders are often underpaid and often work twice as hard to earn the trust of staff and Board Leadership. In a time where it is becoming increasingly hard to hire and retain leaders in the non-profit sector due to lower pay and high burnout rates, Boards need to be vigilant about best practice in Governance.
Dr. Burnette, a highly educated, experienced executive leader and a woman of color, turned down leading a prominent national organization to take this opportunity. We were lucky to attract her to this role, and this loss will have lasting effects on the community.
To move forward, strong board governance practice dictates a thorough review of the incident, transparent communications with stakeholders, and a critical review of the executive committee actions to determine if any members failed to do their jobs and need to be replaced. Final steps are reviewing board policies against best practice, developing and implementing any needed policies, recruiting new board members/retraining the board, and re-establishing boundaries between board and staff.
May the Newfields Board of Directors learn from this experience and do the next right thing.
Chrystal L. Struben
AYS President and CEO
Beth A. Eiler
AYS Board President
Chrystal Struben serves as President/CEO for AYS, Inc. She has worked as a non-profit executive for nearly 30 years and is a respected voice in leadership, fundraising and marketing/communications.
Beth A. Eiler has worked in the non-profit sector for over 30 years, She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and a veteran leader in healthcare administration and innovation.