My father-in-law, Joe, alerted me to a peculiar ad in the business section of the Sunday New York Times. Under the listing “Business Franchise Opportunities” were the words, “Charity Director Millionaire,” followed by a South Florida phone number. “This sounds pretty fishy,” Joe said. I agreed. And so I decided to pick up the phone and go fishing.
Who here is old enough to remember the William Aramony scandal?
In 1991, Aramony, the head of what was then called United Way of America, was found to be having a series of affairs, culminating with a long-term liaison with a girl who was 17 years old (Aramony was 59) when they met. Moreover, Aramony traveled with her in style (four-star hotels, the Concorde to Europe, nights in a specially-purchased luxury condo in New York City), all on United Way’s dime. And this was on top of what was discovered to be a lavish $390,000 annual salary.
Aramony became the poster child for abusing the trust people place in charity. The scandal damaged the independent local United Ways, which were tarred by association, even though they had only a tangential connection to Aramony and his shenanigans. In fact, the scandal impugned the reputation of the entire nonprofit sector. And the United Way of America’s board of governors was roundly seen as equal parts negligent and clueless, and so extremely wealthy that they didn’t realize that paying the CEO of any charity that kind of money was utterly inappropriate. While Aramony’s travel style and sexual peccadillos clearly attracted attention, people were stunned enough by his salary alone that they raised their eyebrows and voices.
Flash forward a couple of decades. Continue reading