It’s important for donors and nonprofits to understand that no organization is immune to scams—no matter how accountable or transparent its operations might be. While there are legal restrictions to what can be said while a case is under investigation, once an incident like this occurs, transparency, as in all matters, should be the guide in communicating to the public. The tips below were provided by Michael Wirth-Davis, president and CEO of Goodwill/Easter Seals, whose own experiences dealing with employee fraud were shared at the Council’s 2007 Annual Forum.
Accountability practices to help nonprofits prevent scams:
- Separation of duties within the finance department is critical
Regardless of the number of employees, require two signatures on all checks. Include non-finance staff as part of the four members who can sign checks. Restrict use of CEO’s signature stamp and mandatory log entries when it is used.
- Focusing on internal controls (just like safety drills)
This should be an on-going responsibility of the Board Audit Committee and management, as well as the external audit firm. All accounts are reconciled monthly, with reviews and sign-offs. Use a lock box for all donations. Run all cash sales through store registers for retail operations. Deposit cash sales with store deposits.
- Review internal controls
A review of controls can lead to identifying areas of risk and vulnerability, which should then be shared with your Audit Committee.
- Practice honesty, integrity, and accountability
This should be part of your routine operation to establish credibility and will come in handy during the challenging times.
Manage the situation when fraud occurs:
- The CEO and CFO should disclose issue to the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors.
- Engage a forensic audit firm.
- Engage your attorney.
- Inform all members of the Board of Directors. Provide updates to Board regularly.
- Engage a crisis communications firm to help create public messages for specific audiences.
- Present findings from forensic investigation to County Attorney’s office.
- Fully cooperate with legal authorities during investigation.
- Inform your staff.
- Inform the public. Coordinate activities with the media relations staff of the County Attorney’s office.
Telling the Public:
Since most organizations are involved with the public in some way, it is important to let them know what is going on. Below are steps to take in getting the media involved to accurately disclose the situation:
- Work with a team of professionals as to how to go about letting the public know about the incident. This includes who all should be told and when to announce it.
- Look at all possible scenarios that could be brought up during the process of public disclosure.
- Make sure to tell the staff everything first before the media is told. Be direct and respectful to answer all questions received or point them to the appropriate communications staff.
- Track and monitor all public responses.
- Proactively alert the Attorney General’s office of the situation. Provide updates regularly.
- Next, release the information to the media and allow interviews.
- Reinforce the message publicly that this situation in no way reflects the work you do every day on behalf of those in your communities and it will not affect the quality of your programs and services.