Non-Profit organization document ownership. Her's or our's?

Discussion in 'Growing and Managing a Business' started by jejennings, Jul 1, 2012.

  1. jejennings

    jejennings
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    The long time (7 year) volunteer secretary of our small Historical Society choose not to run for re-election in 2012. During this time she produced virtually all of the organization's public documents (newsletters, brochures, event announcements, ad books, and the like). In addition, as a member, before becoming secretary, she transcribed various documents, including a church history, that are now part of the society's collection. When asked to provide the computer files from which these documents were originally printed, she has refused, stating that they are "her work". I was under the impression that materials produced by a member or officer for an organization become the intellectual property of the organization for which she was "working". Please advise the legalities of her withholding these files, since should they need to be generated "from scratch", it will present a considerable work burden for other members of the organization.
     
  2. Fergal

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    If the person concerned was a paid employee, she would be legally obliged to provide that documentation to you. I'm not sure what the legal position is, when she worked as an unpaid volunteer. What state or country is your organisation based in?

    It doesn't sound as if the documentation concerned would be of much value to the lady concerned, do you know why she does not want to make them available to you? Is there any possibility that you could work this out amicably, without the cost and aggravation of going the legal route?
     
  3. jejennings

    jejennings
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    We are a non-profit in New Jersey. The documentation has NO value to the lady concerned. She is keeping the files only to make it necessary for us to recreate them from scratch. She is unhappy because her husband resigned as President after several members complained about and openly stood up against his dictatorial leadership style. I think she is doing this to punish the organization. We are trying to keep everything on a low key in the hopes that she will see that her present actions will be detrimental to the otherwise positive reputation they have built during their 6 years of service to the organization. The member voted unanimously to recognize this service with a resolution and a plaque. He husband resigned with dignity and class. We are not threatening legal action. On the other hand member who had left the organization during his presidency are now coming back, so all in all the future looks positive.
     
  4. Fergal

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    That sounds positive jejennings, I hope that it all works out amicably.
     
  5. Mark T

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    About the documents, if she is legally a member of your organization, then she should provide the documents, whether or not she refused to or agreed and if you request from her even if she's the one who worked on it - still its your organization's property. The main solution would be either you start from scratch again, or lend her her responsibilities, duties and the right of the whole organization to such kind of documents. If still it does not work then you can commend to start an investigation as well regarding the document.

    In my own view, it might be just a personal grudge against those who ousted his husband in position. That's politics, anyway.

    On the other hand, you should still respect her and treat her as part of your organization. This problem may only be a personal matter that the whole organization should clarify and make sure that your whole organization has ONE goal aligned together.

    Goodluck.
     
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  6. jejennings

    jejennings
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    By now I have obtained several opinions about ownership of the documents she holds and they unanimously agree that they are the property of the organization. Neither the secretary or her husband have resigned their memberships, only their offices so are still members of the organization and will continue to be until December 31, 2012. A plaque commemorating their service to the organization is being engraved and we will ask if they will attend a meeting for a presentation or have it delivered to them. It is the hope of all members who have voiced their opinions that she gets rid of her grudge and turns over the files to the organization. The organization will reach it's 20th anniversary in December 1213 and it has been suggested that a history of the organization be prepared. I believe she knows this and may realize that her present actions tarnish what would otherwise be outstanding sevice to the organization.
     
  7. Fergal

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    Thanks for the update jejennings, good luck with that, I hope it works out for you and that you get the documents back. It might be worth putting procedures in place to ensure that in future there is more than one copy of important documents in the organisation, to help prevent unfortunate circumstances like this from arising again.
     

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