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Business As Usual

There's recent news of yet another campaign marred by the misconduct of a greedy scoundrel using an influential position for personal financial gain. You might think I'm describing the latest shenanigans in Illinois politics. However, I'm actually referring to the most recent scandal at a United Way chapter.

In October, the United Way of Central Carolinas fired CEO Gloria Pace King amid donor outrage over her compensation package. King received pay and benefits totaling $1.2 million in 2007, reportedly making her the highest paid CEO of a United Way affiliate. While that amount is appalling in the nonprofit world, it's not by itself unethical. But an independent investigation revealed that King brazenly slipped past unsuspecting board members a revision to her pension plan that tripled its amount to $2.1 million. Public indignation has impacted the agency's annual fundraising campaign, with pledges falling by nearly 50 percent.

This is just another of a long list of scandals to hit United Way chapters in recent years. For example, in 2003 the controller of the Capital Area United Way in Lansing, Michigan pleaded guilty to embezzling $1.9 million to buy herself expensive show horses. A former CEO of New York City's United Way, a 33-year veteran of the organization, stole $227,000 during 2002 and 2003 to pay for personal expenses including dry cleaning, parking, and hotel stays. Then there was United Way of America president William Aramony, who was convicted of fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy in 1995. Unfortunately, these are but a few cases of dishonesty at United Way.

After federal agents arrested Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich for attempting to auction off a Senate seat, many observers referred to his behavior as "business as usual" in that state's political establishment. It's as if we've come to expect political corruption in Illinois and that crooked politicians are merely living out a self-fulfilling prophecy. Could this same phenomenon be happening among leadership at United Way?

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I won't give money to big non-profits for exactly this kind of thing. It's too easy to have no interest in the mission and focus, instead, on career and money. It's a very sad thing - as you said, appalling. And it's certainly not just the United Way.

I have chosen to give my money to organizations that have been created by the people running them. These small, new companies are excited to make change and the last thing they're thinking is how they're going to make money for themselves.

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