Sometime early in this millenium I navigated to a path as a progressive environmental activist. I went from a young man in the Young Republicans Club with a background in animal science (now recognized as an environmentally unsustainable field), driving fast sports cars and boats to a mature guy focused on restorative aquaculture and renewable energy technologies. The transition involved years of additional formal education, coastal travel from Maine to Florida, and constantly pushing outside of my comfort zone. What I’ve learned is that change does not come easy. I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with little to show for the effort. New Jersey government, I’ve learned, let’s no good environmental activist go unprosecuted. I’ve refused to participate in the customary ‘off the books’ payments demanded of me. Together with the nonprofits I’ve worked with, I’ve been named as defendant in more than a half dozen legal actions brought by New Jersey government at huge financial and emotional cost. The government prosecutions won’t cause me to back off the cause, but have triggered me to take a closer look at how government got this way.
It’s easy, in my observation, to develop a false sense of overconfidence that an individual can change the system. The Margaret Meade quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” apparently does not apply to environmental activists in South Jersey. We see too many well-intentioned people are jumping into politics (or even nonprofit governance) without appropriate sophistication. It is equally easy to adopt the opposite attitude: “I don’t care about politics; they are all corrupt”. I hear that daily from my neighbors. The hard part, as I see it is choosing a smart personal path between the two extreme positions. For me, that smart path is offering support to organizational governments as an accountant and adviser.
This month I’ve accepted three new political clients: one 501(c)(3), one election campaign committee and one Political Action Committee. I’ve already represented and worked for a number of other nonprofits and community organizations over the years- both in paid and volunteer capacity – and so this general nonprofit area has been a niche for several years.
I expect there will be more requests from political organizations to follow. This political organization field is brand new to me and so I’ve spent much time learning our federal and state election laws, potential pitfalls and educating clients. New software is needed so the time for training had to be worked in. I was previously certified in New Jersey as an election campaign treasurer, so in some sense this was a natural progression of my career journey.
My GOAL is simple:
- to forward the concept explained by John Pavlovitz here: https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/08/07/you-cant-change-hatred-but-you-can-outvote-it/
- …without finding myself or any of my clients listed here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/24/nyregion/new-jersey-corruption-charges.html
Why I can’t run for office
UNELECTABLE – I’ve been asked a number of times to consider running for an elected position myself. There are many reasons why I should not do that. I consider myself unelectable and I even blogged about those reasons here. Perhaps the more important reason is that my wife is dead set against it. She supported me through years of recovery from injuries after I was attacked in a ‘hit’ orchestrated by a New Jersey politician in 2006. She knows that I have the propensity to anger right wing fanatics and incite violence. She knows that I was threatened in public by another politician this past summer. Serving in office just doesn’t make sense for me.1
Why I’m better as treasurer
MANAGEMENT – The treasurer function in a nonprofit is essentially a project management function. It requires a specific skill set and work systems that I’ve developed over the years. My formal educational background in law also helps. I notice that I tend to be a bit stronger in conceptualization of legal documents and framework than some other accountants.
PERSONALITY – Politicians are often strong A type personalities and I seem to be able to handle them with the appropriate balance of feeding those egos and staying “whoa, let’s slow down here”. The balance of listening, offering respect but being a strong voice of caution is important, and I do that well.
VALUE – Nonprofits historically squeeze every penny out of their resources. This is also true of political organizations. My lean cost-effective setup as a sole practitioner with virtual flexible staff lends itself to this niche. My fees are competitive compared to the other options.
My financial contribution
FEE – I’m discounting my fees by 20% to show my support for these causes (which is all I can afford to do and stay in operation). This will be my small contribution to helping get the world back on the right track in 2020. I used to offer free services to small charities; that is no longer the case. Instead, I am focused on discussing budgets and funding that will allow these organizations to be financially stable and self-sustaining. That contribution will be more than what I could mster in cash.
The measure of success
Lately I find myself mentally referring to the concept written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr known as the serenity prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference”.
In the end, our success can only be measured by the comfort we feel in knowing that we’ve done our best to make the world a better place. The powerful inspiring people I meet along the way and the great relationships we develop are a wonderful side benefit.
1The story is covered in more detail in the book “The Drowning of Money Island” and my follow-up notes at www.afterthedrowning.com.