Founder’s Family Leaves Pathfinder’s Board In A Dispute

Three members of the Pathfinder International board of directors have either resigned or been removed. According to the statement, from the Gamble family, all three are descendants of Clarence Gamble, who founded the Watertown, Mass.-based reproductive health and justice organization in 1957. 

As part of their disassociation, the family is ending its financial support of the nonprofit. Since its establishment, the Gamble family has given Pathfinder more than $40 million, the statement continued.

Two of Clarence Gamble’s children, Julia “Judy” Kahrl and Walter Gamble, resigned via email on Monday, Sept. 27. A third, Judy Kahrl’s son Ben Kahrl, had been removed via secret ballot the previous week, according to the statement from the Kahrl family. Judy and Walter Kahrl also sent their resignation letter to members of the organization’s President’s Council, which includes high-value funders.

Pathfinder reported $117.6 million in contributions and grants as part of $118.5 million in total revenue for the year ended June 30, 2020, the most recent federal Form 990 available. More than $74 million of the organization’s revenue came from government grants.

The resignations and removal followed the family members having repeatedly sought management accountability information, Judy and Ben Kahrl told The NonProfit Times. Ben Kahrl said he had made several requests for previous performance evaluations of Pathfinder CEO Lois Quam when the board was asked to do another evaluation. According to Judy Kahrl, the request for the earlier evaluations was denied. Ben Kahrl said he was told previous evaluations would be confusing to new board members as the geopolitical environment had changed, and Covid had made those previous evaluations irrelevant.

The family also claimed the organization is experiencing high staff turnover rates, including an alleged 100% turnover rate since Quam took over as CEO in 2017, and that the organization is on its third chief financial officer in five years. The Kahrls also raised questions about a $216,000 severance package given to a former human resources director who had been on the job for four years. 

“The Gamble family’s blatant disregard for the Pathfinder Board governance process and their disparaging statements demonstrate more of the same behavior that precipitated the removal of Ben Kahrl from our Board of Directors,” Pathfinder board Chair Roslyn Watson wrote to The NonProfit Times in an email statement. “These statements are wholly inaccurate and unfounded. We are proud of our efforts to recruit a more diverse Board and to address the history of Dr. Clarence Gamble’s racially-biased and unscientific personal beliefs through an independent review free from family influence. This work continues to help us in our efforts to implement our new, country-led strategy that is designed to create a more equitable organization. The Pathfinder Board of Directors is firmly committed to strengthening sexual and reproductive rights and we will not be deterred by actions that are designed to distract us from fulfilling our mission.”

The statement did not provide a response to the specific allegations. 

The Kahrls acknowledge that Pathfinder founder Clarence Gamble was a supporter of eugenics, a discredited theory that sought to produce desired traits in humans through selective breeding. Both Judy and Ben Kahrl said the family has disavowed those beliefs, is committed to transparency on the issue and has committed Clarence Gamble’s personal archives to the Harvard Medical School Countway Library, and has urged Pathfinder to do the same with early records from the organization.

The Gambles and Kahrls will continue to support reproductive justice and maternal healthcare through other organizations, Ben and Judy Kahrl said. They already have relationships with the New York City-based Guttmacher Institute, Atlanta’s SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the Black Mamas Matter Alliance of Atlanta and Boston’s Neighborhood Birth Center, among others.

The families likely won’t be setting up a new reproductive health and justice organization, at least not in the near term. “Setting up a new organization takes a considerable amount of time, which in some ways we feel is running out,” Judy Kahrl said. “The attacks on reproductive justice within the United States, which affect programs overseas, are very strong right now.”