Not surprisingly, we expect our leaders to be selfless, tireless and above reproach. Unfortunately we all too often find out they’re just human, with all of the nasty foibles and faults of ordinary people, which leaves us feeling angry and disillusioned. Their act of betrayal consumes our focus often obliterating all of the good which came before.
Glenda Rider, Owner and Executive Producer of International Ms Leather (IMsL), recently dropped the bombshell that she mismanaged money intended for beneficiaries of the annual women’s event. It appears to have been going on for as long as she’s owned IMsL although the exact amount that she misappropriated has not been publicly stated.
Unfortunately the story is distressingly familiar and Glenda, far from being an anomaly, is merely the latest community leader to be implicated in financial wrongdoing. There’s no way to condone or defend her actions. What she did was wrong.
But I think what she ultimately did took guts. She looked in the mirror and didn’t like the person looking back at her which led her to do something rather unthinkable – she outed herself. She told the world that she was dishonest, that she had betrayed the trust of not just the beneficiaries but everyone who has ever held the IMsL or IMsBB title, of every volunteer who gave freely of their time, of her friends, her co-producers and many thousands of people who will never meet her.
In my opinion we should find it in our hearts to forgive Glenda for not being the person we thought she was, and for not being the person she wanted to be. Then we should take a hard look at why these things happen.
I’m pretty sure that Glenda didn’t set out to steal money. I’m going to make a startling accusation: namely that our pervasive fundraising culture is a corrupting influence. For decades almost every event in our community was expected to be a fundraiser and we, generous people that we are, give vast amounts of mostly unaccounted for money. We nobly expect that every possible penny must go to the beneficiaries and “overhead” is a dirty word. Overhead in this case meaning the ability to hire (yes, pay money for) an accountant to handle the books. That’s exactly the kind of oversight that shines a bright light on financial shenanigans.
My understanding is that IMsL is a for-profit LLC and not a 501-c non-profit. As the sole member of the LLC, Glenda could have rightfully pocketed every dime of profits from the event. Except that we make it clear that running an event for profit is not being a good community leader. I’m sure she felt compelled to donate as much back as possible.
I’m not privy to IMsL’s financial setup but my guess is that Glenda does not draw a salary and probably hasn’t taken any profit from the event. I know from experience that there’s never enough cash from the previous year to jump start the next event so you’re own money goes in to the pot and rarely comes back to you. It can create tremendous temptation on the producer’s part to give a little less here and a little less there and maybe pay some of your own bills, especially when no one is looking over your shoulder. After all, you’re the one that took all the risk and worked your ass off and ANY amount that you’re giving out is more than they had before, right?
We’re okay with paying all of the businesses around an event for things like travel, accommodations, printing and so on. And yet we expect every person involved with producing an event to do it for free and our community retailers to donate everything for free.
I think we can go a long way towards heading off financial problems if producers were to run events more like businesses and recognize that a reasonable amount of overhead is appropriate and yes, that may include paying salaries for key personnel and paying our retailers something for the items they donate.
More importantly, I’d like to see us keep our events and our fundraisers separate, at least financially. Let the event producers handle the event and let another group, possibly the beneficiaries themselves, manage the fundraising. Keep the money separate so there’s no question that the beneficiary gets every dime from the fundraising efforts.
I don’t think most people set out to steal money. But we’re delusional if we think it’s not going to happen again and it’s up to us to make the changes that reduce the chances of it occurring again.