Thursday, May 23, 2013

WTF? - My 2013 WLSFA Meet 'n Greet Experience - The Aftermath

MacMadame's patented guide to conflict resolution.
This is a difficult post for me to write. It's difficult for a number of reasons one of which includes my childhood.

I grew up in a family that was full of secrets, dysfunction and feuding. It was too much drama for me and I reacted by becoming pretty much allergic to drama. People start feuding and choosing sides and publicly pointing fingers and I'm outta there.

I am the one who is friends with everyone even people who hate each other's guts to the point of where people are afraid to be in the same room with them. I am the one who invites who I want to be there to my college graduation or my wedding and if this one isn't talking to that one, I shrug and say Not my problem.

The other reason writing this is hard for me is that I'm going to not only choose sides publicly -- not only am I making it my problem -- but I'm also going to criticize an organization that goes good things. This is something I have been trying very hard for the past two years not to do.

But I need to, I think. It's time.

So here's the deal... two years ago I went to my first WLSFA's Mother of All Meet 'n Greets. I was so excited about it. I loved the cause. These people raise funds so that people who can't afford it can have Weight Loss Surgery (WLS).

While my family has had my financial issues these past couple of years, I understand how lucky I am. When I discovered that my insurance excluded WLS, it wasn't like all my options were gone. I still had plenty. I eventually just paid cash for the surgery -- I didn't even have to go into debt.

It's wrong that I had to do that. It should have been covered by insurance. But I had options that so many don't. There are people out there for whom surgery is a life and death matter and they can't get surgery. That's wrong times 10. And one way to help those people is by donating to the WLSFA.

So I decided to run a little fundraiser. Not a big one, not a four figures fundraiser, but a little one. I figured I could have raised maybe $225-250 with my fun little fundraiser. And I was happy and excited to do so. I was also happy and excited to go to this event even though it was in Vegas, a town I hate.

I collected my supplies and I plotted and planned and I talked to Antonia, the President (CEO?) about logistics. And was met with a great lack of enthusiasm for my fundraiser.

I was surprised. I mean money is money right? And I wasn't doing anything crass or anything, like selling sexy calendars that might offend some.

But I got the distinct impression that my fundraiser was of supreme disinterest to The Powers That Be. I decided, like I always do with the drama and the feuding, to just ignore the negative vibes I was feeling and plow ahead.

But my fundraiser never really got any traction especially with no recognition from the organizers. Luckily Melting Mama (Beth) from the Bariatric Bad Girls Club (BBGC) got on board when she saw what I was trying to do and helped me scare up some takers during the actual event.

I ended up raising a whooping $22 dollars, but it would have been less without Beth.

I also did not have a particularly wonderful time at the event. I didn't have a bad time. But there were a few things that happened that were off-putting. I was going to blog about it but I didn't want to put people off the organization especially as not all of what bothered me was their fault.

Then, when I got home, Controversy Erupted. Someone blogged about this one who blogged about that one and then everyone was blogging about how everyone else sucked. Naturally, I did what I normally do when it all turns into a big drama-fest. I shut the hell up and ignored it all. I didn't even mention in my blog that I'd been there.

I also decided not to round up my donation to the $225-$250 I had hoped to collect, but only round up to $25, and I did not end up becoming very active in this organization as I had originally planned. For one thing, I realized that this group would quickly drive me mad with their disorganization and poor editing skills, even if they had made any attempt to include me or use my talents which they had not.

There was also a certain lack of clarity in how grant recipients are chosen, who exactly is on the Board vs. the Advisory Council and and a few other things that didn't quite raise red flags with me at the time, but gave me an unsettled feeling.

So I sent them my check and walked away. I didn't go to the next year's event, but went to my kid's school's annual camping trip instead. And organized the food for it and joined the Board of my tri club and signed up to be co-chair of the Concessions committee for my kid's Theater Group. The WLSFA's loss was every other organization I belonged to's gain, I guess.

Fast forward to this year.... My kid is in a new school so there was no camping trip to conflict with the event. I hadn't gone to any other obesity/WLS-related event in the two years that passed due to scheduling conflicts and/or finances. I was missing people and wanting to get together with my online friends and Mr. Mac lurves Vegas almost as much I hate it and it was near our anniversary and ... at some point I signed up.

I bought a ticket to the event, we got plane tickets so we wouldn't have to drive ten hours both ways (splurge!), I reserved a room in the hotel, and that was that. However, I did not pay the extra $100 to attend the Carnie Wilson lunch, I did not buy any raffle tickets, and when the BBGC decided to sell those rubber bracelets as a fundraiser, I .... did not buy any.

I claimed it's because I don't do rubber bracelets. And I don't. But I did donate to the BBGC rubber bracelet fundraiser for the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) -- I just made Melting Mama swear she wouldn't actually send me any bracelets! So the truth was that I just felt uncomfortable giving the WLSFA more than the bare minimum of my money.

I went to the event with the idea that I was going to socialize and have fun and nothing more. I wouldn't make myself hear all the speakers (given how some of them had upset me last time). And I would concentrate on friends and not the disorganization and the squirreliness and, as you can tell from my blog posts about the event, I basically had a good time, in spite of the stupidities with the food and a few other things. I didn't regret going either and was even considering going next year because there is going to be a cruise and I love a good cruise.

But now that we're home, again, Controversy has Erupted. Again.

It seems the WLSFA has thrown Melting Mama (and others from the Bariatric Bad Girls Club?) out of the WLSFA, or at least off their Facebook page, and she has returned the $1000 check that the BBGC presented as part of the event. (I believe I was thrown of the Facebook page as well but I may have just unjoined one day when my News Feed was particularly bloated. I tend to do that.)

Why did the WLSFA do this? Well apparently because Beth violated some "Participants Code" with her behavior at the event. Except I was there and I call bullshit. Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit!

Beth attended various events at the convention and hung out with her friends. I talked to her at various times throughout the event. I went to dinner with her Friday night. She wasn't drunk. She wasn't loud. She didn't even ask a single question in the Dr. Yoni talk. She was pretty low key the entire time. She did not cause a single stir at any time during the event. Not once. She didn't even dance at the party on Saturday night. (I did.) Or show cleavage. (I did!) Or anything really. She was just there.

Now I did not follow her around the entire time. It's quite possible that she did something outside of the event that upset someone. But outside the event is outside the event. Doesn't count. End of story.

Also, since I wasn't following her around 24/7, it's possible that she had a conversation here and there where some individual didn't like how she interacted with them. To which I say to that individual or individual(s):

Grow the fuck up. Seriously. Grow. the. fuck. up.

Do not go running to "mommy" to say "ooh, that Beth Badore is a meany. I asked her something she didn't want to answer and she didn't." Or "I told her that Gays were going to Hell and she said Gays are Great and there is no Hell." Or whatever the heck it was that set you off.

Because whatever it was, if there wasn't a big dust-up about it, then it wasn't important enough to ban someone and return the donation that their organization made.

And speaking of that donation... if you don't like a person, you have to separate that from their organization. The Bariatric Bad Girls Club, as a group, did nothing wrong either. Some of them came to the event and represented their (our) club with t-shirts and stuff. They were well-behaved. They attended events. They had fun. They raised money for the cause and they presented you with a check. That's it.

Even if Beth had done something to deserve banning (which she didn't), that has nothing to do with the donation. Nothing. The donation was from the club, not personally from Beth.

In fact, organizations are supposed to have criteria for who they will and won't accept donations from. It appears that the WLSFA even has some some sort of criteria at least when it comes to corporate donations. BBGC is a corporation (or close enough), so it should fall under those guidelines, I believe.

But, of course, when you go to the website to read those guidelines, this is what you see:


Turning down donations randomly without being able to point to a particular criteria is bad form and exactly the sort of squirrelly behavior that put me off two years ago and caused me not to throw my weight behind this organization.

Finally, I feel compelled to say that I am neither naive nor am I all fan girly about the BBGC. I belong to the Facebook group. As a long-term post-op, I find the group helpful and, because I get something out of it, I do try to give back. But I've gone through long periods where I don't visit much and I resigned as an Admin ages ago because I didn't like some of the way things were run. I did wear Skull earrings on Friday in support, but I never wore my BBGC t-shirt. I don't agree 100% with everything that goes on there, just as I don't agree 100% with any group.

I have also been on the Boards of many, many groups, all non-profits. I have owned my own business. I understand how these things work. I have dealt with hard problems such as suspected embezzlement, Boards not following the law, and disruptive members. I have dealt with the issue of how to deal with members who volunteer a lot yet are troublesome. So I've been there.

Therefore, my opinion that the WLSFA has handled this entire situation very badly is not based on "How dare you be mean to my friend Beth, who is perfect in every way?!" but on actual experiences with these sorts of situations. Lots of experience.

I realize by writing this post, I have opened myself up to criticism and to attack. I expect to now get a ton of comments and private messages telling me that I am wrong and also that I don't know what "really" went on and if I did, I'd change my tune.

But I don't see how knowing some details of what set off the WLSFA or what the specific complaint against Beth was will make me change my mind that the WLSFA is not well run or that you don't return a donation from an organization unless you have a problem with the organization as an organization.

I also don't think it will make me change my mind because my complaints with this situation go so much deeper than who said what to whom and who had the most visible t-shirts (BBGC, hands down.)

As an example, I would draw your attention to the 2012 990 form filed by the WLSFA with the IRS, in particular this section:

What is occupancy? According to the IRS, this is what that line is about:

Line 16. Occupancy.    Enter amounts for the use of office space or other facilities, including rent; heat, light, power, and other utilities expenses; property insurance; real estate taxes; mortgage interest; and similar occupancy-related expenses. Do not include on line 16 expenses reported as office expenses (such as telephone expenses) on line 13.

In other words, it's the rent that WLSFA pays for their offices. Except WLSFA has no offices. That's stated right up front on the 990 form where it says:

Yep, the address of the organization is the address of the CEO. So when you donate to WLSFA you think your money is going to pay for WLS for people who deserve it. But, in fact, some of it is going to pay the CEO's rent. Rent she'd have to pay anyway even if the WLSFA did not exist.

Maybe that's okay with you. Maybe you think "Oh, Antonia does so much for the WLSFA that she deserves some of her rent paid for." And that's okay. Some people think like that. BUT... It is not okay with me. I completely disagree with this.

It's legal, of course. But it's not cool. Not cool at all.

Speaking of expenses, as you can see here

on their 2010 taxes, WLSFA list revenues just under 60k and expenses of almost 40k. However, on their 2011 taxes they have revenues of over 125k -- so about 2x a much -- but their expenses have grown to almost 100k! 

So instead of having twice as much money for grants, they had only about 6k more. I'm sorry, but that's crazy. There is no reason for expenses to climb like that. 

Remember these expenses do not include the costs of the surgeries. It's only the day-to-day costs of running the organization and putting on the annual convention. Which will grow a bit as the convention expands but not by more than 2x as much.

I have run a business, as I mentioned, and I have been a Director at a small business and had a six figure budget to run -- bigger than WLSFA's budget -- and this is backwards. Instead of your expenses growing exponentially as your revenues grow, there are supposed to be economies of scale.

Therefore, the more I poke at the publicly available financial statements for this group, the gladder I become that (a) I haven't given them much money and (b) they gave the BBGC their check back! 

Now that money can be donated to the OAC instead and it might actually go somewhere useful. Like changing the law so that insurance companies can't exclude weight loss surgery any more so that everyone who needs it can get WLS and not just a handful of people that they wave their magic wand and bless.

I wrote this last night and decided to sleep on before I published it. I wanted to make sure I could stand by it and that it served a purpose besides fanning the flames of a bunch of High School Drama.

As I read it over this AM, I have a thought. Why did I know to go look at the WLSFA's financial statement? Because at the event Melting Mama told me she was concerned about their finances.

Then we get home from the event and she gets told she's been banned from WLSFA's functions for violating their participants' Code of Conduct. (Which is also not on their web site, by the way.)

The penny dropped for me. THAT is what she did that "caused harm to members". She let the cat out of the bag that things behind the scene are not all on the up-and-up with that organization.

And now I have too.
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