Alex loves his job. He has been writing grants for a state parks and recreation office for five years now. A number of his grants have been funded, and Alex's community has benefited from the results of his grant-writing skills. Alex has a good working relationship with his supervisor, Helen. With Alex's grants and Helen's managerial savvy, the parks and recreation office is goal-oriented and effective. Alex's most recent grant awarded the office $200,000 from the Jamii Foundation, a non-profit foundation focusing on community development, to create a park with a nationally historic marker in the community. Construction soon began, and the project was unfolding nicely. The city built the marker, planted trees, but suddenly stopped before building the picnic tables. The reason? The money had run out on the grant.
Perturbed, Alex checked the spending report against the budget in the proposal. The report came up $50,000 short of the proposal's promised results. How had he underestimated the cost so much? He had written numerous grants for parks in the city before, and he had a good idea of how much things cost. Alex emailed Helen about his concerns, so Helen met with Alex privately.
"I thought it might be more in-line with Jamii's foundational goals to re-appropriate a portion of the grant's funds to St. Matthew's soup kitchen. After all, we're building a nice park in a nice neighborhood while people starve in other parts of the city. It's perfectly sensible to sacrifice picnic tables to feed the hungry."
Alex could hardly catch his breath. He wondered if Helen had inadvertently committed grant fraud.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because it's not your responsibility. I've taken care of it."
Somehow her answer did not help Alex feel any better. He swallowed his anxiety.
"Does the Jamii Foundation know about this?"
"Alex, you understand how slowly a foundation makes decisions. St. Matthew's needed money quickly. If the Jamii Foundation has any issues, they can investigate the matter for themselves. They've funded soup kitchens before, so we're not ripping them off. Anyway, what's more important? For people at the park to have picnic tables or for homeless people to get fed? You should see the new kitchen at St. Matthew's. It has new appliances, the food tastes better, and the facilities can accommodate more people."
Alex did not know what to say. In previous projects, he had trusted Helen's judgment and valued her ideas. She had a talent for using grant money as effectively as possible. And while feeding the homeless was indeed an important contribution to the community, Alex felt that it was not an honest use of the Jamii Foundation's funds.
Shaken, Alex left Helen's office. How could Helen do this without talking to him first? It made him angry. She had undermined his ethos as a grant writer. His proposal and budget did not deliver, and he worried that he might look professionally ineffective. This inconsistency was unusual for this office and for his grants. Wouldn't that alert the Foundation that something was amiss?
The long workday finally ended, and when Alex left, he drove by the park. It looked pristine. People would never even know picnic tables were supposed to be there. Alex also noticed that the park was located in an affluent neighborhood.
From the park, Alex drove to St. Matthew's soup kitchen. The kitchen was located in an economically depressed neighborhood, and Alex noted the long line of people waiting for the doors to open for dinner. Curious, he parked his car and went in when the door opened. The facilities inside were beautiful, well heated, and well staffed. This was the biggest and most impressive soup kitchen he had ever seen. Two hundred people could easily be accommodated. Helen had indeed stretched the grant funds a long way. Alex met Helen's brother Ed, a regular volunteer at St. Matthew's.
"Helen really saved this place," said Ed. "It almost went bankrupt a couple weeks ago. That money was such a blessing. St. Matthew's is not a wealthy church, so we thought we'd reached the end."
Alex could not sleep that night. He felt cornered in a situation with no good solution. As a technical communicator, a grant writer, and an honest human, he understood the gravity of transparent financial communication, especially to other ethical organizations. But what would happen if he notified someone at the Jamii Foundation that Helen had re-appropriated their monies? Would he preserve his integrity as a grant writer? Would his office's reputation become tarnished? Would Helen be fired? She did use the money to support the community, and not for personal gain. And what if Jamii somehow removed their money from the soup kitchen? What if there were a legal confrontation between Jamii and St. Matthew's? People could go hungry again.
On the other hand, what if he reported nothing, went about his business, and let circumstance sort it out? To preserve job security, that might be the smartest course of action. His daughter needed health insurance for her diabetes.
He planned to speak to Helen again about it tomorrow. He at least needed to tell her, politely and rationally, how much her actions upset him. But once Helen has committed this deeply to a cause, she has historically stuck to her course of action. Alex didn't expect her to change now.
His wife's soft breathing eventually lulled him to a shallow, restless sleep. All night he dreamed, "what to do, what to do, what to do?"