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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Foolproof: Dead and Gone

posted by on August 7 at 12:12 PM

Foolproof, the decade-old nonprofit that presented speakers and comedians (including Bill Clinton and Sarah Vowell) and sponsored forums at Town Hall, has folded.

Board president Sheryl Harmon said financial problems stemmed from overreaching in programming (bringing high-priced speakers like Garrison Keillor to high-priced venues like Benaroya Hall and the Paramount), a long-term $300,000 deficit, and trouble with the IRS.

Of the first, Harmon said: “There were errors—when you’re throwing that kind of money into speaker fees and programming costs, there’s nothing left over for marketing or anything.” The result was expensive, under-attended evenings.

Of the second and third, Harmon said there had been financial trouble for years and the IRS finally put a lien on the organization for failing to pay payroll taxes in 2005 while continuing to pay executive director Marilyn Raichle.

Harmon (no relation to Town Hall director Wier Harman) wasn’t on the board in 2005 and said she can’t explain what was going on then. Foolproof, Harman said, had a lot of board turnover and not much institutional memory—Harman became a season ticket-holder three years ago and, by last July, was board president. “But,” Harmon said, “I don’t think the organization has been in the black for at least three years.”

Foolproof paid down all but $2,000 of the lien, which, coupled with the long-term deficit, cut the legs out from under the organization. The board quietly began the process of legal dissolution back in February.

“We’ve kept it quiet,” said Harmon, who works for Windermere, helping with downtown real estate developments. “We believed in the mission of Foolproof, of the importance of articulating progressive ideas and presenting political comedy, and we still do. We tried to bring Foolproof, with dignity, to an end.”

Harmon said the IRS investigation of Foolproof is complete. She does not know if there are continuing investigations.

“My heartache is that I wanted to deliver a different message,” she said. “I wanted to make it work.”

RSS icon Comments


I am a ticket holder to two $75 events. After a discussion with Town Hall, I was sent a letter from Ms. Harmon to take a tax deduction but I would rather have my $150.00.

Foolproof was a great idea and was implemented well until their difficulties. I wish we could raise the funds and bring back a 2.0 version.

Posted by ticket holder | August 7, 2007 1:32 PM

I think Foolproof really did a disservice to their supporters by keeping all this so hush-hush. I suspect ass-covering was more important than 'dignity'. Glad I raised the question yesterday about 'whatever happened to Foolproof'. Now we know. Thanks, Brendan. You seem to have more confidence in the community than the Foolproof board did.

Posted by Supporter | August 7, 2007 9:11 PM

Are you kidding? Would YOU send a press release if the IRS was after you?

Posted by um | August 7, 2007 11:00 PM

I'm an officer and boardmember of a non-profit and, if we were to be disbanding, we would certainly proactively explain why to the public and, in particular, to our members. And, from the looks of it, Foolproof's issues with the IRS wound up being fairly minor. The other issues appear to have had the fatal impact. I think it's a good cautionary tale for any other group who looks to fill the hole left by Foolproof's demise.

Posted by Supporter | August 8, 2007 8:45 AM

That's too bad. I enjoyed their speakers.

Posted by bobby | August 8, 2007 4:54 PM

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