Things weren’t looking good for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society last month when the Boston Globe ran a story reporting that the organization has laid off almost two-thirds of its staff, taking it from an agency of 30 employees to only 12. The executive director resigned after questions arose about financial improprieties at his last job, and the story also reminded readers that the controversial sale of $5.4 million in rare books a few years ago seems to have not solved the organization’s financial problems. (many of those books went to the Chicago Botanic Garden, BTW)
And now, the latest development–Mass Hort has sent out a letter to its creditors explaining why they haven’t been paid. I am the lucky recipient of such a letter; they owe me $2,758 in speaking fees and travel expenses for a talk they hired me to give at the New England Flower Show in March. (Click the image of the letter to read it if you’re so inclined, or go here.) The letter informs me that "the Society is not under a court order, has not assigned rights to other parties, nor has it filed for bankruptcy protection." However, it goes on to explain, it is following the "well-respected protocol established by the US bankruptcy courts for treating creditors equally."
In other words, ain’t none of us getting paid.
For me, it’s an expensive lesson to learn. I’ll just have to be more assertive about getting payment up front. Or, as I wrote to Mass Hort after I got this letter, "Unfortunately, I realize now that I should have refused to go onstage and
give my talk until a check was handed to me. At the time it seemed like a
terribly rude way to behave, but now I realize that the true lack of
consideration was on your organization’s part, by allowing me to provide
services to you that you had no intention of paying for."
Mass Hort has put out a special SOS appeal to
try to "make sure that we can stay solvent." I hope that appeal works
out for them, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who is out not just
a fee for a service, but actual out-of-pocket expenses. And that’s to say nothing of the 18 employees who lost their jobs. (By the way, their letter tells me that I have the option of converting my "outstanding balance" to a tax-deductible contribution. That would certainly be the largest and least voluntary charitable contribution I’ve ever made–at the moment I’m disinclined to do so.)
I hope Mass Hort digs their way out of this mess. In addition to sponsoring the
annual flower show, they have the responsibility of caring for any
number of lovely gardens, not to mention the only Master Gardener program in the state. It would be a shame to see all this hard work and expertise lost because of financial mismanagement.
Bostonians, keep us posted if you hear anything about Mass Hort’s ongoing struggles.
(UPDATE from an alert reader: Their charming gift shop Flora is having what looks like a close-out sale this weekend. If you’re in the area, go get your bargains.)Posted by Amy Stewart on August 7, 2008 at 1:45 pm, in the category Ministry of Controversy.