A Board Member Goes Rogue and a Foundation Responds Accordingly

Photo by Brian Branch-Price/ For The Washington Post

In worldwide opera circles, the Richard Tucker Foundation looms large as an organization that rewards talented singers with prizes and opportunities for advancement in the profession. Each year, their “gala” is broadcast on PBS to highlight the world’s greatest singers.

In its 45-year history, they have given prizes to the top opera performers, but only once has a prize been given to a Black singer, American tenor Lawrence Brownlee. Like so many organizations, the opera industry has recently been under fire for their lack of ethnic diversity, on-stage and off-, prompting the creation of an Instagram account called @operaisracist that shares the cringeworthy stories of singers who have experienced bias and racism.

The Foundation, unfortunately, saw a more serious incident over the weekend when the founder’s son and board member, David N. Tucker, went on a racist tirade online. The comments were shared widely in the operatic circles and the younger Tucker was eventually dismissed from the board of directors as outlined in a communication yesterday from the Foundation.

This is not the first nonprofit facing a situation like this. Many organizations are caught off guard when the ramblings of a board member, volunteer or staff member are shared widely. We recommend that all nonprofits and foundations approve not only a shared set of values to guide their work, but also policies and procedures when individuals may act in a way that is outside those values.

While some complain that this is merely free speech, the damage to the reputation of organizations is tangible (and certainly can have a long-lasting reputational and economic impact for the organization). Nonprofits should have conversations about equity and inclusion, but they should also make certain that behaviors such as David Tucker’s are not acceptable and could result in termination – either as staff or board.

Having policies and procedures in place will help to educate board and staff not only on the values of the organization but also on the consequences of not espousing those values, even in social media.

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