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When Should You Take a Stand

“When should you take a stand?” That’s always been an important question, but in 2021 it has even more urgency and potency. Here are four criteria to help you decide if your organization should take a stand on important issues dominating public discourse.

  • Is the topic relevant to what you do?
  • Will it bolster or hinder your work?
  • Do you have the moral authority to say something?
  • What does not saying anything say?
Is the topic relevant to what you do?

I remember a time in high school when we tried to find a charity to support through some dance, bake sale, or car wash type activity. Someone suggested (and I’ll be dating myself here) that we raise money for the Solidarity movement in Poland. Our rural, public school was filled with mostly WASPs whose families had never left the country, let alone gone to Poland. Many didn’t even know where it was exactly. “Whereas that’s a fine movement,” our advisor said, “Let’s pick something a bit more close to home.”

Staying close to home when it comes to commenting on a topic is essential for a few reasons, not the least of which is maintaining your focus. For example, if you’re a social enterprise that helps put shoes on children’s feet in developing countries, taking a stand on something like Twitter silencing someone inciting riots will do little more than distract you from your mission.

If there is a compelling reason to speak out about something seemingly irrelevant to your mission, be sure to point that out in the process.

Will it bolster or hinder your work?

When John Kerry was running for president, one of my friends was outraged that he did not publicly support same-sex marriage. Such an assertion in 2004 would have ruined any chance he had to get elected and, along with it, the smaller, incremental support of LGBTQ rights. (Granted, he lost anyway, but that’s not the point.)

In no way am I suggesting that an organization turn a blind eye to important topics simply because they are unpopular. But, how much positive change can you affect if you’re no longer in business? As the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Do you have the moral authority to say something?

Whereas the outpouring of corporate support of Black Lives Matter was a positive step in the right direction, much of it came from companies talking the talk but not walking the walk. I’m not suggesting that they should not have weighed in; I am suggesting that their support would have had more impact if their records on diversity and inclusion were better.

In those cases, admitting your shortcomings and sharing your plans to do better would go even further. It would show authenticity—a valuable asset for any organization—and it could very well inspire others to try to do better as well.

What does not saying anything say?

All that said, it’s important to remember that saying nothing is also saying something. What message are you sending by not saying something and how does it stand up to the previous three questions? As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

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