Academy for Educational Development, AED, Bob Beane, Capitalism, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Exploitation, Fundraising, Grant-seeking, Maximizing Profits, Medicaid, Medicare, Mount Vernon Clinic, Partnerships for College Access and Success, PCAS, Presidential Classroom, Valerie Johnstone, Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health
Keep in mind that these are just observations, not me axe-grinding or feeling sorry for myself. My biggest observation is that raising money for others without reaping enough benefit for myself shows that even governmental and nonprofit organizations are just as prone to capitalistic exploitation as Walmart and Apple. And that I am not immune, nor have I ever been immune, to the pride and naiveté of production and exploitation.
Many times during my years in the nonprofit world as a manager or consultant, employers have asked me about my ability to raise money. I’ve done a pretty good job of that over the years. Fifteen minutes of work as an educational “closer” at Presidential Classroom led to a $25,000 grant from State Farm’s civic engagement work (a.k.a. service-learning) in 2000. I worked on a $1 million renewal grant from Lumina Foundation for Education for the college access and success initiative for which I served as deputy director during my last four years at the Academy for Educational Development (AED). I also raised $200,000 from Lumina for data collection for the initiative in 2005.
I’ve indirectly raised funds from which I didn’t derive a benefit, either because the amount were too small for AED’s vast overhead and other direct costs (read as paying higher-ups salaries for the privilege of raising money on behalf of the now-defunct organization). Or because others used my curriculum vitae and my work for AED to garner grants that I never worked on. My last year at AED we turned down what would’ve been a $100,000 grant from Carnegie Corporation because it would’ve been too small, especially since we needed to collaborate with a sister organization on K-16 access and success work. We turned down potential smaller grants from other private foundations for similar reasons.
And after nine months of work off-and-on, the wife of a Pulitzer Prize winning-columnist for a Washington newspaper received a $250,000 grant from a corporate foundation in New York, based on my work. Because the AED higher-up in charge of the process worked with her as a personal favor — and didn’t put our proposal and implementation work into a contract — her socialite friend and head of a college fund organization received a grant with no strings attached, for AED or for me. I did get paid for my work, as I did it under the AED banner. But the fruits born from that work went outside the organization, to a person almost as duplicitous as the organization for which I once worked.
But in terms of fundraising, or at least, making money for an organization, absolutely nothing in my work history compares to what I did at nineteen. Yes, nineteen! The summer of ’89, I worked for Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health, out of the Mount Vernon, New York clinic, across the bridge from the Mount Vernon East Metro-North stop. After the previous long summer of unemployment followed by five days of homelessness and two more months of living on financial fumes, I was happy, really happy, to have gained steady employment all through ’89.
So happy that I didn’t notice how productive I was being in the office. I had the rather official title of Summer Intern, and had been told by the Director of Community Mental Health Programs in Bob Beane that he was “counting on me.” I came to the Mount Vernon clinic with Beane’s charge to “get their back-billing in order.” Since 1984, the clinic had regularly had its Medicaid and Medicare billing for psychiatric and psychological services rejected by the state-level health folks in Albany, mostly due to coding errors.
Specifically, the clinic staff were putting incorrect codes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders — in this case, DSM-III and DSM-III-R (with the III-R standing for version number three, revised edition) — on the state billing forms. There were other errors to be sure. Doctor’s names and patients names were often misspelled. Control numbers were incorrect. The proper signature wasn’t obtained. But well over ninety percent of the errors were DSM-III or DSM-III-R codes that staff had entered into a billing form incorrectly.
This was the summer of ’89, so the form itself was printed on a line printer, and the checking of such forms had to be done manually. It would take two or three weeks to hear from Albany about an incorrect code, a month to receive payment. After five years of coding errors, red tape, and the clinic’s administrative staff badly managed by one Valerie Johnstone, my job was to rectify as many of the old billing errors as I could before the summer came to a close.
In eight weeks’ time, despite all the other menial tasks Johnstone would sometimes have me do, as well as having to share the same billing computer with Beverly (who dealt with current billing, and was probably responsible for the majority of my back-billing work), I got through three cabinets’ worth of billing issues. I left at the end of August, I left for the friendly environs of Pittsburgh and Pitt, vaguely aware of how much money I’d made for the Mount Vernon clinic and for the county.
I found out in September that my work had made them $371,000! I was impressed, but then I quickly became depressed. My salary for Westchester County that summer was $5.90 per hour. Over eight weeks, my net income was $1,610. As an intern, I had no fringe benefits, not even a commuter allowance. In terms of ratios, for every dollar I made between June 26th and August 18th, Westchester County and the Mount Vernon clinic made $230.43!
No wonder the staff at the Mount Vernon clinic looked at me with a combination of bemusement and derision! I had shown them up, unknowingly, and allowed myself to be an exploitable resource. And though I had a guaranteed job for the next three years after that summer with Beane and Westchester County, there was no way I could ever make enough income to make up for that kind of profit-generation. So much for the idea of not-for-profit and government enterprises!