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Nonprofit Board Duty of Obedience versus Duty of Care

In a little town south of Atlantic City there sits a six-story elephant Lucy is a National Historic Site (built in 1881) and she is in a bit of disrepair needing attention. But wait! PETA will help. PETA (the anti-cruelty-to-animals folks) has offered to throw-in some cash if they can also highlight, using Lucy, the plight of circus animals.

The Board of the organization that owns and is committed to the preservation of Lucy has however rejected PETA's offer saying that anything that might make the Lucy experience less than a happy experience is not acceptable. While the PETA money would certainly help the board address its duty of care needs, the board's perceived duty of obedience (to remain faithful to and pursue the goals of the organization and in particular, honor donor requests) would be violated.

This is a great lesson for nonprofit boards. There are those times when challenges may appear too great to handle while at the same time, not every resolutions is acceptable. Of course these situations may be as much about perception as reality. It's is Lucy's board that perceives PETA's offer "tainted" while we must recognize that PETA saw their offer as an opportunity to pursue their own mission. Of course the same might be said of the many institutions that accepted Coca-Cola money to do nutritional research and education. What is perceived as tainted and outside the box of "obedience" may not actually be.

Here's the article.

By Don E. Woods | For
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on October 12, 2015 at 1:47 PM, updated October 12, 2015 at 3:04 PM

MARGATE — Jersey Shore landmark Lucy the Elephant may have painted toenails but she won't be getting a tattoo anytime soon.

The tattoo was one of the conditions set by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to donate money for Lucy the Elephant restoration efforts. The conditions were too depressing to consider, according to Lucy officials.

PETA requested that Lucy be fitted with a foam shackle, a teardrop tattoo and a banner promoting awareness of circus elephant abuse, according to an announcement by the Lucy Board of Trustees.

"Lucy is a happy place," said Richard Helfant, CEO of the Lucy the Elephant Team, in the annoucement. "We must always insure that children who visit Lucy have a happy experience and leave with smiles on their faces. Anything that could sadden a child is not acceptable here at Lucy."

PETA offered a $2,000 donation for restoration efforts last week.

"Cruelty to animals is abhorrent, but given the divisive nature of some of PETA's campaigns, Lucy is much better off seeking 'no strings attached' donations," said Robert McGuigan, board member on the Save Lucy Committee, in the announcement.

Lucy is a 65-foot-tall wooden elephant in Margate. She was built in 1881 to attract people to Absecon Island to buy real estate. She was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

The Save Lucy Committee is raising money to fix railings on the top riding carriage, fix rust on her hide and repaint the elephant.

Restoration is estimated to cost $58,000.

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