T

he Clinton campaign continues to grapple with allegations that Hillary used her position as secretary of state to secure donations to her family foundation. Even if no explicit connection of pay-for-play is found, donors may have understood that the best way to get a meeting withClinton — and have their viewpoints heard — was to make a generous donation. If this is true, it is troubling for obvious reasons, but becomes even more of a concern should she win the election.

It also raises questions about how the foundation was run and whether the foundation’s board (which includes the former president and Chelsea Clinton among its members) was responsibly overseeing the charity’s activities. When Bill Clinton was recently asked about the scandal, he denied wrongdoing and focused instead on the good works of the foundation. No doubt the foundation has been doing good work — but that’s not enough to justify the way the foundation is run. Conflicts of interest have the power to undermine the legitimacy of any charity and can lead to its collapse. Stay tuned.

Though it seems far from our world, this episode should serve as a lesson to all people involved in running charities, yeshivos, and gemachs. Is the way we manage these organizations completely above water? Do we ever utilize practices that may be questionable at best, or downright illegal at worst? There is no question that our community organizations are doing wonderful work. Needy people are being helped, children are being educated, loans are being made, much-needed services are being provided. But how are they being run? My comments are not meant to suggest that there are actual issues. My point merely is to emphasize the need to conduct business with a clear conscience and seek the proper professional advice, including the advice of a competent accountant and lawyer. The practice should be to embed their guidance into day-to-day operations and make compliance with applicable laws (including non-profit, tax laws, money laundering, etc.) a practice before auditors come knocking. Organizations should focus on how to actually do the right thing, not simply on how to disguise the wrong thing in the best possible way.

A few years ago, after a couple of unfortunate incidents in our community, organizations began to focus on the risks they were taking and started to reevaluate whether those risks were worth it. Directors and administrators consulted with professionals, attended seminars, and engaged in the issues.

Today, we need to make sure we don’t become complacent and revert to old ways. Each organization should ask itself whether it would feel comfortable opening its books to an auditor (or even law enforcement, such as the FBI) if they came through the door. If the answer is no, there is more work to do.

As the new school year begins and we march toward Rosh Hashanah, each organization should resolve to consult with appropriate professionals, clear up questions, revise processes, and document appropriately to ensure compliance with applicable laws. Our community is blessed with highly talented individuals, capable of providing the best advice, who can equip our organizations with the knowledge they need to consistently make a kiddush Hashem. We should always be in a position to allow the good works we do to speak for themselves without the tarnish of allegation and controversy.

If the Clinton Foundation episode teaches us anything, it is to steer clear of the pitfalls and take urgent action to avoid the mistakes of others.

Judah I. Kupfer, Esq., is a senior compliance officer at Citi and a former legal counsel at Agudath Israel of America. He can be reached at jkupfer1@gmail.com. The viewpoints expressed are his own.