Shocking: William Rapfogel, ousted head of the well-respected Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, after his arrest on Tuesday.
Photo: William Farrington
‘Breathtaking” is the word that the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, used to describe the scheme of grand larceny that has now formally been laid against William Rapfogel, who — until he was fired in August — was executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Breathtaking it certainly is.
What makes it so is not only the scale and the duration of the alleged thievery, though that is something. Rapfogel, who has yet to enter a plea, is accused of padding insurance contracts over 20 years to the tune of $5 million, of which he allegedly took more than $1 million. Investigators say they found $400,000 in cash stashed in Rapfogel’s homes.
On top of that is the scandal of the entanglement of a major charity and the government. The Met Council wheedles government money by the millions, from the state and the city, and uses that money, at least in part, to get more money from the state and city. The governments get the money by forcing it from our already-strapped taxpayers.
I’ve covered Rapfogel on and off for something like 20 years. I met him in the 1990s, when he was starting as head of the Met Council and I was editing the Jewish Forward. His main theme was an often underappreciated fact, that as much as 15 percent to 20 percent of the Jewish community in this city is poor and needs help.
That’s all the more reason for the authorities to open up this case all the way, no matter who gets snared.
And to keep in mind the saying that the scandal isn’t only in what’s illegal but also in what’s legal. If ever there were a case that calls for an aggressive and independent prosecution, it would be this in all its angles.
Including the Met Council’s dealings with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. This is the most explosive element. Not only was Rapfogel a personal friend of the speaker, but his wife, Judy, has for years been Silver’s chief of staff. And Silver has, over the years, steered millions of dollars to the Met Council.
It’s not my purpose here to make accusations against either the speaker or Judy Rapfogel; no one has suggested that either has broken the law. A spokesman for Silver has said that Judy Rapfogel was unaware of the $400,000 allegedly stashed in her homes and the crimes her husband is accused of committing.
It would be hard to overstate, though, the importance of the authorities making their own efforts to confirm that. Spouses can keep secrets from one another, no doubt. But a lot of New York taxpayers will find it hard to imagine that their own spouses could stash $400,000 in their homes without them stumbling upon it.
More broadly, let the authorities open up the whole question of taxpayer money going to nonprofits.
It seems to be the modus operandi of our time. Legislators don’t need to take bribes; they can divert taxpayers’ money to charities to which the taxpayers wouldn’t give voluntarily, then siphon money out of the charities.
Ex- state Sen. Efrain Gonzalez got seven years for bilking a charity, the West Bronx Neighorhood Association, that had received money from a nonprofit to which he’d steered state money. Ex-City Councilman Larry Seabrook is also in prison for a scam involving steering to charities taxpayer money that made its way back to him.
In June, former state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., was sent away for five years, after being convicted of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Bronx nonprofit Soundview Health Network. In May, ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley was sentenced to prison for looting $88,000 from a taxpayer-funded charity. Brooklyn Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. is facing trial for misusing public money meant for a nonprofit.
So we’re way past the “three is a trend” milepost.
Gov. Cuomo has set up a Moreland Act Commission to look at public corruption. While the commission gears up on the big picture, let Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who oversees charities and whose officers arrested Rapfogel, press the investigation at the Met Council wherever it might lead — no matter how breathtaking.
Join hundreds of organizations across the country in promoting democracy on the second annual National Voter Registration Day. Here are two easy things you can do:
Use September 24th to ensure that all eligible voters in your office are registered. Put forms in shared spaces, send an email to staff and board members, and get creative when celebrating National Voter Registration Day.
Promote Nonprofit Voter Registration Day within your network and encourage your affiliates and partners to celebrate. Dedicate one (or more) email, social media post, or other communication to spreading the word about voter registration and NVRD.
Congressional Agendas Clash as Government Shutdowns Loom
Facing opportunities to avoid or cause a federal government shutdown twice in the coming weeks, lawmakers appear more committed to long-term political positioning and less focused on immediate priorities. By early next week, Congress and the President must reach agreement on legislation to fund (at least temporarily) the federal government into the new fiscal year or allow the government to shut down due to a lack of spending authority. On Friday, the Republican-controlled House passed a measure, known as a continuing resolution or “CR,” that would maintain spending levels for ten weeks and added the party’s highest priority – defunding the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.” The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to strip off the health care provision and send the “clean” CR back to the House, likely only days (or hours) before the October 1 deadline. It is uncertain whether the House will accept the Senate version of the CR or send back to the Senate another alternative bill in time to prevent a shutdown of the government.
Approximately two weeks later, the Treasury Department will have exhausted its legal authority to borrow money and the federal government will default on its obligations – unless Congress passes and the President signs a law lifting the limit on borrowing. The House debt-ceiling bill reportedly will extend borrowing authority and delay the 2010 health care law for a year, provide an outline and impose a timeline for enactment of a comprehensive tax reform law, and include cuts to mandatory spending programs, all of which are top Republican priorities. The President and Senate Democrats are once again rejecting each of the proposed debt-limit “add ons” and the President is insisting that he will not negotiate over terms for extending the borrowing limit to pay for previously authorized spending.
The new school year brings into focus the effects ofarbitrary spending cuts to special education. The federal budget gimmick known as “sequestration” is reducing funding by $579 million for programs serving children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), according to the U.S. Dept. of Education. IDEA is a federal program designed to meet the learning needs of special education children to prepare them for further education, employment, and independence. Education advocates say the cuts could mean fewer social workers and school psychologist, fewer speech, occupational, and physical therapists. With government funding cut for special education, it is likely that some of the burden will shift to nonprofits to fulfill those needs. See 50-state chart of projected cuts to special education.
Michigan Bill Sentences Public Assistance Recipients to Community Service
Legislation requiring people receiving food stamps or other welfare benefits to perform unpaid community service in order to get public assistance checkspassed the Michigan Senate last week. While the bill sponsor feels there is “absolutely nothing wrong with requiring folks to have a little skin in the game,” the stigmatization is clear since typically “community service” is meted out as a punishment for criminal behavior. The bill does not define “community service,” making it unclear whether the mandated hours would be for “volunteer” time spent working in the Governor’s Office, legislators’ offices, and throughout state and local governments, or whether the bill seeks to impose unfunded mandates on charitable nonprofits to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people suddenly showing up on their doorsteps seeking unscheduled and unsolicited service opportunities. Name-brand nonprofits and foundations in particular could be overwhelmed by sheer volumes of people if such a bill were passed into law. The National Council of Nonprofits supports programs that promote volunteering activities that mutually benefit individuals and the people served through nonprofits. However, the Council of Nonprofits’ Public Policy Agenda expressly opposes proposals to condition receipt of government-provided benefits on requirements that individuals volunteer at nonprofit organizations. Such a policy, sometimes called “mandatory volunteerism,” unfairly imposes increased costs, burdens, and liabilities on nonprofits by an influx of coerced individuals.
Taxes, Fees, PILOTs
Taxes: Beginning October 1, Kansas City, Missouri nonprofits will no longer be exempt from the City’s 7.5 percent convention and tourism taxes. Following the enactment of a Missouri lawin 2012 that made the changes possible, Kansas City residents voted in April to end the tax exemptions for nonprofits and other tax-exempt entities, such as schools and state agencies, but excluding the US government.
Fees: City officials in Fort Lauderdale, Florida approved a law that will, for the first time ever, charge nonprofit organizations, including churches, and government agencies with revenue-producing operations an annual fire assessment fee. The City expects to reap $540,000 in new revenues from the expansion of the fire fee, $22,542 of which will come from the local Salvation Army alone. "It will have a significant impact on the needed services we provide," a Salvation Army representative warned.
“Heads Up” to Nonprofits About Keeping Their Tax Exemptions
In an effort to protect thousands of nonprofits across the state, the Maryland Comptroller has begun notifying six thousand organizations that they are at risk of losing their tax exempt status or have already done so because they failed to file the proper IRS forms. “I want to do everything in my power to ensure that each and every Maryland nonprofit organization, and its mission, is not placed in jeopardy by this matter," said the Maryland Comptroller. In 2006, federal law mandated that the IRS begin requiring small nonprofit organizations with annual gross receipts equal to or less than $50,000 electronically file IRS Form 990-N, also called an e-Postcard. The law also requires that all nonprofits that fail to comply with the annual filing requirement after three years will suffer automatic revocation of their tax-exempt status. Donors to nonprofits that lose their tax-exempt status also lose the ability to deduct their contributions. “The services provided everyday by local nonprofit organizations are vital to the health and safety of countless Marylanders, especially during this difficult economy,” U.S. Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) said. “It’s our duty to protect these organizations as they help our friends and neighbors.” The IRS has revoked the tax-exempt status of more than 535,000 former nonprofits nationwide, including more than 11,600 in Maryland, since it started implementing the law passed by Congress. Check the IRS database to make sure your organization has not been automatically revoked and see additional resources from the National Council of Nonprofits.
States Seek to Improve Food Safety without Burdening Nonprofits
The Indiana health department has until the end of October to make recommendations to state legislators on what changes can be made to state law or practices to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness while alsoprotecting nonprofits from burdensome food safety regulations. Under current law, churches and other charitable nonprofits are permitted to serve food only a limited number of days each year; otherwise they are considered “food establishments” and required to adhere to food safety rules. As a result of a food-safety law enacted in 2001, church potlucks and similar food-related events at nonprofits were effectively banned. Earlier this summer, Georgia legislators also clarified the meaning of “food service establishments” with a new law that exempts nonprofits and government entities from state requirements for food service permits if the event involving food lasts five days or less.
In Praise of Government Outreach to the Nonprofit Community
The City Council in Salt Lake City, Utah has beendebating a proposal to broaden the criteria for engagement by community organizations and is going above and beyond the norm to hear what the public really thinks. The City’s current definition of community-based groups normally applies only to neighborhood-based community councils that focused on geographic interests rather than broader issues of city-wide concern. The proposed ordinance would acknowledge many more nonprofits than neighborhood-focused citizens groups, all with the goal of encouraging more citizens of Salt Lake City to be more engaged in the City’s operations through nonprofits with broader interests.
And instead of simply posting the draft bill and debating it during a public hearing, the City Council has embraced outreach by maintaining a comprehensive webpage to solicit public opinion. A truly worth seeingbrief educational video explains the proposal and ends with the phrase “but before the Council makes a decision, they want to know what you think about the possible changes.”
Utah Nonprofits Association (UNA) is applauding the City Council’s efforts to include more community-based organizations in the processes of city government. In a statement, UNA thanked Council members for their “recognition of the value that these organizations add to life in our community,” and observed that “additional voices in the democratic process create greater transparency and more functional projects as well as more satisfied community members.”
In the best of times or the worst of times, we nonprofits are always ready for a good deal, a good discount or something in our favorite currency: free.
All deals, discounts and freebies end at Friday, September 20, 2013 at 5 pm pacific time (8 pmeastern). And as a bonus to our bonus issue, we have a Blue Avocado contest about boards.
Thanks to our contributors for making these offers. Keep calm and read on. -- Susan Sanow, Blue Avocado Project Manager
How About a Game of Blue Avocado "Truth or Dare" on Boards?
Want to sit around the Blue Avocado campfire with Jan Masaoka? 10 lucky readers will be eligible to join the campfire conversation on boards of directors.
How do you qualify? Submit a true story in 25 words or less of the most funniest/most interesting/most outrageous/most inspiring thing that ever happened to you at a board meeting. Send it to email@example.com byFriday, September 27 at 5 pm pacific time (8 pm eastern time). Write "Truth or Dare" in the subject matter line. If selected, the idea may be shared with our readers (with or without attribution --- let us know.) Decisions by the judges are final.
The campfire conversation with Jan will occur with the 10 winners on Friday, November 1 at noon pacific time (3 pm eastern time). Winners will be notifed byOctober 15.
BOOK AND MAGAZINE DISCOUNTS!
CharityChannel Press offers a 20% discount oneverything in its In the Trenches series of books and workbooks, just for Blue Avocadoo readers.
With 24 titles to choose from -- such as fundraising, leading a board, being an executive director, and even how to become a successful consultant -- you're sure to find one you'll like.
Review the catalog of titles, and when you’re ready to order, use the code BlueAvocado to get the special deal . . . . but just during the 4-day bonus issue period (Tuesday, Sept 17 through Friday, Sept 20). It applies to any or all of the CharityChannel Press books, manuals, and workbooks, in any quantity. (This offer may not be combined with any other offer except for additional discounts available for bulk purchases.)
A fundraising advice call with Kim Klein (the superstar author and speaker) and a subscription to Grassroots Fundraising Journal: Specialsubscription rate for Blue Avocado readers: just $29 for a one-year subscrption with unlimited access to the online archive of over 400 fundraising articles. Each issue of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal has practical, do-able pieces on special events, direct mail, major donor programs, membership campaigns and more.
Go to grassrootsfundraising.org/subscribe, choose the $39 rate and enter "blueavocado" when asked about who referred you to GFJ. You'll then qualify for the $10 off! Offer good through September 20 at 5:00 pmpacific.
And, Blue Avocado readers who subscribe will be invited to have your burning fundraising questions answered on a free call with the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training's Laurene Francois and Kim Klein! The one-hour conversation is set for Tuesday, November 12 at 1:00 pm pacific time (4pmeastern).
TECHNOLOGY EVENTS DISCOUNTS!
Master Class for Technology Champions
Technology Champions aren't necessarily code wizards. Instead, they understand the role of technology in supporting the work their organization does, and work to make it part of their organization's master plan.
Join NTEN for Master Classes in San Francisco on September 19, in Atlanta on October 24, or in Austin on November 14, and become a Technology Champion at your organization! Blue Avocado subscribers can click on the city name to register for the master classes at $30 off (discount code MC-BlueAvo!) Must register by September 20th to get this great rate.
Social Media for Nonprofits / Nonprofit Bootcamp
If you're in the Bay Area, don't miss these TWO opportunities: attend the Nonprofit Boot Camp on October 10or Social Media for Nonprofits on October 11 at a special Blue Avocado reader price! Blue Avocado readers get $30 off your registration for either day. Tickets include registration, breakfast and lunch.
Just visit here and use the promo code "AVO" to register now.
Too often program goals are discussed separately from financial means, although we all know that both must be discussed together. Jan and Steve will present the methodology for doing so from the book they co-authored with Jeanne Bell: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability. This model can be used as an adjunct to or substitute for traditional strategic planning. Click here to register free by Friday, September 20 at 5 pm pacific time (8 pm eastern).
Speaker: Kim Klein, Klein & Roth Consulting (and famous author and speaker!)
Can you say yes to any of these statements?
I had a year-end plan but I got way behind and didn't revise it
My year end plan is on track but we have to raise more money than we thought
I admit I never had a year-end plan and now it seems late to create one
You are not alone. It is not too late to raise a lot more money in 2013. In this fast-paced webinar, Kim Klein will discuss six different strategies most organizations can do in the time that remains before December 31, 2013. You will learn how to focus on the donors most likely to give, who you should ask in person, what you really can do with social media, and how to get ready for next year. Click here to register forfree. Registration remains open only until 5 pm pacific time (8 pm eastern) onFriday, September 20.
At the heart of all social change work are people. Allison Fine will explain how to re-organize our work to ensure that every person who wants to matter has an opportunity to speak, create, organize and donate on their behalf.
Allison is a Senior Fellow on the Democracy Team at Demos: A Network for Change and Action in New York City. She is the author of two award-winning books, contributes to HBR.org, hosts a monthly podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and writes her own blog.
To register for the free workshop, click here. Registration remains open until 5 pm pacific (8 pm eastern) on Friday, September 20.
DISCOUNTED SERVICES FOR NONPROFITS
Accounting and Bookkeeping Services for nonprofits
Jitasa currently serves over 200 nonprofits (they only work with nonprofits) across the United States, saving them up to 25% on their bookkeeping and accounting needs. Jitasa is offering Blue Avocado readers who are new customers an additional 20% off set-up fees. That could translate into savings of over $1,000 for your nonprofit.
To take advantage of this four-day offer follow the steps below:
Don't forget that the biggest deal of all just may be your subscription to Blue Avocado – and you get that delivered to your inbox for absolutely free. What a deal! Why not say thank you with a gift to support Blue Avocado? Click here.
NY State of Health lets you shop for, compare, and buy a health plan online, in person or over the phone. We offer expert “helpers” for every step of the process. Starting today, trained representatives are ready to answer questions and provide information to consumers and small businesses.
You can reach NY State of Health by calling us toll free at 1-855-355-5777.
Customer Service hours of operation are: Monday – Friday 8am - 5pm
You are among the first to learn that our Customer Service Center is now open! If you have questions about health plans, financial assistance, or anything else about NY State of Health please call our Customer Service Representatives at 1-855-355-5777.
NY State of Health will expand its hours and begin enrolling New Yorkers in health plans starting on October 1, 2013, but you can call us now to learn more or you can visit our website at http://nystateofhealth.ny.gov/ Thank you for your interest in NY State of Health. We'll send you more updates soon.
About the Executive Director Peer Network of the Capital Region...
The "ED Peer Network" offers offers opportunities for education, networking, professional development and peer support to nonprofit leaders in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady Counties.
Mary Seeley, Equinox Christopher Burke, Unity House of Troy Maggie Fronk, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County Ray Schimmr, Parsons Child & Family Center Lisa Frisch, The Legal Project Michelle McClave, The AIDS Council of Northeastern New York Robert Stevens, Literacy Volunteers-Mohawk/Hudson, Inc. Rowie Taylor, YWCA of Schenectady Doug Sauer, New York Council of Nonprofits