"Grim-faced in a dark suit and black skullcap, Mr. Rapfogel quietly read passages from a well-thumbed copy of the Torah while his lawyers...went over terms of a plea agreement" (New York Times, April 24, 2014)The Torah was a nice touch, wasn't it, from one who stole at least $1 million in funds that William Rapfogel skimmed from New York's Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty? He apparently continued a "tradition" begun by his predecessor over 20 years earlier.
How much "thumbing" do you think Rapfogel had to do to get to the "Thou shalt not steal" part?
And, where were the organization's Board members while this theft was on-going? They were paying "Willie" over $400,000 a year, basking in the glory that he brought to the organization while he was quietly stealing $30,000 a month by 2013.
The "skim" in this case flowed from overcharges on the organization's insurance, paid over in cash to Rapfogel and his predecessor. Was there no Insurance Committee or did this Board "leave it to Willie?" Was there no open bid for the organization's insurance? This was not a matter that "fell through the cracks," it was one that demonstrated a shocking lack of lay oversight.
Friends, there is a lesson here for all of us, for all of our organizations. As someone once said: "Trust...but verify." Our responsibility as non-profit Board members is to exercise diligence; not merely to trust that what we are told is gospel (I know). In South Palm Beach County, for example, the Federation and a senior professional, among others, have been sued by a long-serving Federation financial professional who was terminated after questioning those to whom she reported about matters including alleged self-dealing. Who, other than a court, is looking into this? Who looked into the claims if and when the allegations were made before this pro's termination? (And, as an aside, why would any responsible federation "professional" carry a handgun to work?)
I once rode down an elevator with the Chair of one of our most important federations after meeting with him and his CEO. I asked, making conversation, how much time the Chair had to spend away from his office on federation matters. The answer: "Not, much, I made a deal with _________ (the CEO) when I agreed to take the Chairmanship -- he can call me if he needs me, otherwise he will take care of everything himself." My thoughts were something like "OMG." But what I heard from that Chair I have seen play out in too many places...places that could be or could become at risk from just such a total delegation of lay responsibility.
I continue to lament the abandonment by JFNA of its responsibilities to educate and mentor both lay and professional leaders in the core values inherent in the lay-professional partnership -- the very partnership that ennobles both lay and professional leaders. The balance necessary in that partnership is neither an easy thing to create nor is it simple to maintain; yet, it is such a precious thing. And, who at 25 Broadway today would be capable of driving that education/mentoring process? Who at the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence would be capable of doing so (we will soon write about the strange Mandel reconcepting and duplicating the Wexner Heritage Program)?
Nowadays, when JFNA has walked away from so many of its responsibilities to the field, in the main because its leaders no longer even understand them, we will look with hope and optimism to the promise offered by the ever-creative Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and associated mega-foundations which will soon roll out a program to attract and mentor the next generation of non-profit organizational leaders. I would expect that the curriculum will include the lay-professional partnership with all of the nuances inherent to that partnership.
If only we had a continental organization rather than a JFNA that is striving so hard to prove that we don't need one.