loren 20120623
September 7, 2013 | by Loren Berthelsen
When Leaders Fall

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.

17 Comments
  • Great write up with good honesty… People are human, Leader(s) or not… Wrong is wrong and yet, we see it happen all the time… The person in the mirror will be dealt with, one way or, another… Time is on the side of Truth… Thank you for a good insight!

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  • This is true of any of the services and events in the community. Pretty much everything is run as a labor of love, but we still need to eat too.

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  • Alan Arthur Chiras

    I know that I’m not well liked in the community any more. My leadership days are over. :(

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  • What do do when it happens again? How do we know it’s not happening all the time, right now?

    I’ve attended hundreds of events. I don’t have access to their bookkeeping. I don’t know how they are incorporated (or even if they are) what their tax status is, who gets paid on their staff, or how much, whether they are veer audited, whether the places and people they raise money for ever actually receive it – or anything else, really.

    When I get paid, it’s sometimes with an event check, sometimes with a personal check, and sometimes with an envelope of cash. Sometimes, I sign for it, but most times, I do not. Sometimes I have a signed contract of letter of agreement, but most times, I do not. If I make an agreement with one person a year before an event, it is likely I will be at some point contacted by a completely different person later on, often completely unaware of my original agreement.

    This all goes to the root cause of not only financial scandals (and the erosion of funds we never hear of because the group is small or local or too embarrassed to report on things) – but also the eternal turn-over (via burn-out) of volunteer leadership, unrealistic expectations, a sense of entitlement toward events and services in the kinky scene, and that sense of deja vu as we see the same story played out year after year.

    We disdain professionalism. We reject any hint that someone working in “the community” should actually draw a profit, let alone a salary or even a stipend. We want to endlessly raise funds for charity, while the people doing the work to raise all those funds can sometimes be in serious need of charity themselves.

    I said it at the LLC where I gave my most unpopular speech ever – if we are to continue to have places where people can meet in person, party, socialize, engage in education and entertainment – we need to get out of the notion that people doing the work should forever be unpaid and dime past what is barely necessary to keep the event or organization afloat should be given away. If someone puts their own money into a business, they are entitled to get it back – and time is money. Volunteers in other areas support paid professionals quite happily, even in the non-profit field. No, wait, what am I saying – ESPECIALLY in the non-profit field. Because “non-profit” doesn’t mean “the producing team doesn’t draw a salary.”

    It’s long past time to end the assumption that every time we get together, it’s a charity fundraising event; and when we DO raise charitable funds, the time to announce how much we’ve raised and donated comes after the accounting is done and the expenses are paid.

    If an event or business can’t make enough money to sustain itself, then that’s BAD BUSINESS. It’s unprofessional to continue doing the same thing over and over, scraping by, often in situations of great anxiety. A professional looks at why they’re not making money and changes things. Or, you give up that business model and try something else.

    Every year, I get dozens of requests to come teach or speak at events, and many of them without any offer of payment, some even without travel expenses. One of the events I have done for nothing has been, ironically, IMsL. But I used the occasion to ask (in my keynote) why we were still trying to sustain the women’s leather contest as a business model. Why do we ask so many people to spend so many hours creating and maintaining contests that fewer people want to attend, let alone compete in – contests that don’t make money, that don’t provide a sense of community for more than the event weekend itself?

    I’m still asking. Is it worth all of this, and the effort that is right now going into the IMsL reboot, to create an annual celebrity? Who will then be expected to volunteer even MORE, raise funds for charities and usually spend her own money to support her travel schedule to promote…the contest?

    But whatever. There’s a reason why I’ve cut back on my travel/teaching/speaking schedule. Because that business model, for me, wasn’t working. I got tired of hearing “We’re a non-profit and therefore no one gets paid, and by the way, I put $10,000 of my own money into this,” as though someone investing or losing money in a business whose operating principle *they do not understand* makes them more worthy of my volunteer time. I got tired of hearing from people who had financial security in their personal lives scold me for trying to “make a living OFF the community” as though the very idea of making one IN the community would be shameful, or exploitative. I got tired of event producers who will make a contract with a caterer, hotel, theater, printing business, professional lighting and sound systems, insurance companies, van and bus companies and everyone else they need to mount an event, and pay them – but draw the line at their instructors, entertainers, and staff. (Or, who will happily expect a kinky professional to donate or deeply discount their services and goods because – THE COMMUNITY.)

    Laura
    I’m older, not bitter. Oh, wait, yes I am bitter. Never mind!

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    • Amen. You just covered every thought I ever had on this topic.

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    • Just wanted to clarify that I didn’t raise any money for charity during my title year.

      Hobbit, IMsL ’08

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      • The contract for IMsL 2008 had the following stipulation:

        “Fundraising: Titleholders will be required to plan and/or host a minimum of two fundraisers for a (non-travel fund) charity of their choice. Please email the producers a logo, blurb and/or web link for your charity for inclusion on the http://www.imsl.org website.”

        Are you saying you did not fulfil this requirement of the contract you signed at the beginning of your title year?

        I will add that this same stipulation appeared the year I was IMsL, that being 2010.

        Mollena Williams
        IMsL 2010

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    • Thank you for saying this! There are SO many events and contests (many who have no contestants!) that I wonder if its time for some consolidation in our community.

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    • For serious serious, you beat me to it.

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  • Kudo’s to Ms. Rider for stepping up. In the past 40 years and counting of leatherati behavior, there is no recollection of anyone ever voluntarily taking full responsibility for a misdeed. It’s as-if the community is as pure as white silk where few, if any, are called to task. And the community itself seems to abhor self-examination. We’re perfect. When has there been any investigative journalism? Who publishes their financials? (Folsom Events does.) For-Profit and Not-For-Profit have one thing in common: they’re corporations. Maybe its time to trade-in the gossip for some intelligent public review and questioning.

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  • Bingo: “our pervasive fundraising culture is a corrupting influence.” I wonder if anything stunts us as a community the way this does, either by allowing our events to be organized — and OWNED — by paid professional fundraisers, who at the end of the night or weekend take all the money away to their non-profit; or by the reflexive guilt, shame, whatever it is in us that insists there is no legitimate reason for us to come together except to raise money for people and causes we find less morally objectionable than we are ourselves.

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  • Most people are volunteering their time at leather events because they want a discounted rate for the event — not because they believe in a charity that is part of a fundraising effort for the event. I don’t attend a great many leather events. I am self-employed with two businesses, and I have a house and two dogs, so free time is not something of which I have an excess. However, when I look back at the events I have attended, I cannot name one charity that was featured as part of a basket auction or other fundraising effort. Fundraising at leather events is laudable, but if I wish to give money to charities (and I do — mostly animal-related), I do so directly.

    We go to events to play, hook up, and see old friends. We go for vacation. We go for relaxation. The point of leather events is not, and never has been, to raise money for charity. This does not mean that the money that was raised for charities should not be accounted. However, the shock and horror that I have been reading over Glenda’s admitted financial mismanagement is, in my opinion, more than a bit supercilious.

    Does anyone really take vacation days from work, travel across the country, book a hotel room, and pack an extra suitcase for leather and toys (in my case, shoes and corsets) to make a contribution to a charity? People attend events for personal pleasure, and people volunteer at events to get a financial discount on the event. Putting on an event is not easy. Most people do it as a second job, and a job with very little (if any) financial compensation or personal gratification. If we want leather events to continue, then we need to accept the fact that, like any business, poor decisions and judgment are part of the process. I hope Glenda does not discontinue her support of the leather community over this, but that is up to the members of the leather community. After 25 years in this community, I don’t hold a great deal of confidence that common sense and a level-headed perspective will prevail over pettiness and our persistent enthusiasm for scandal, but I can always hope.

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    • Raising money for charity and not giving them the money is considered fraud. Taking a salary or stipend as a producer of an event is acceptable and their perogative. Everyone gets that start up money for the next year and costs to sustain a person that is organizing a big event is necessary.

      Blaming the “victim” in this case leather events as being temptations of bad accounting practices doesn’t fly. Sorry, there are simple spreadsheets to help, it doesn’t take a lot to have people sign off on money received or collect receipts, etc. (Yes, I’ve organized big events that include fundraisers before, during and after including selling swag, charging fees, tipping, buying odd things on the spur of the moment, etc.)

      I’m sure a huge rock has been lifted from Glenda’s shoulders coming clean, and it can feel like hard work is no longer being acknowledged. I work hard for the money I bring to leather events, and I volunteer and get my pals to volunteer our money and time so I am not so quick to forgive and forget.

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  • A funny thing happened on the way to the confessional: amnesty!

    Should Genda really have to give up IMsL or do folks think she could continue on? After all, it doesn’t seem like this is all her fault, it’s the system’s fault, the charities fault, attendee’s fault. If anything, this has made Glenda even more admired, not less.

    Lauren, you wrote: 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.

    So what did you do? Did the charities eventually get all their money from you?

    To those who have been where Glenda is–come forward now while there is love and acceptance in the air.

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    • fearJunkie; Actually, the one contest I produced paid its bills, gave $2000 to two charities and I got an $80 hat and a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans with my share of the, uh, “profit.” Jeffrey, my co-producer, spent his $100 on a pair of chaps, I think. The travel fund for the winner was…modest. But we didn’t *require* her to travel. (Or compete in IMsL, either. Our goal was to create interest in our area, not export it elsewhere.)

      We had $500 in the bank account left after that. We looked at it, looked at each other, pondered whether we could get the sweetheart deals from the clubs who hosted the two nights of the contest, whether we’d get enough volunteer energy to run it again, and all the other variables. Three months later, we shook hands, closed the account and gave the $500 to the People with AIDS Coalition. The only way we could imagine pulling it off again was to cut out the fund-raising, and Jeffrey was sure if we did that “no one” would come. That was in 1992.

      Laura

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  • Doesn’t anyone remember that in a previous life she was a CPFA? A financial adviser. Funny how that little tidbit never gets mentioned. The apology is empty.

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