The Center for Association Resources


Is an association management firm focused on helping Non-Profit associations succeed in their mission.

Being on guard for fraud in non-profits

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Non-profit organizations have a special need to prevent and detect fraud. While for profit organizations also must watch for fraud, the non-profit sector has some unique considerations.  To keep donations flowing, the need to maintain the public’s trust and protect the organization’s reputation is paramount.

Fraudulent acts which impact an organization can occur either outside or inside the organization. Some estimates put the total percentage of fraud for the non-profit sector as high as 13% of annual donations. While fraud is more often committed by lower level employees, the higher the employees’ position in the organization, the larger the total fraud losses tend to be.  CEOs commit the lowest percentage of fraudulent acts, but their fraud tends to involve larger monetary amounts.

Common types of internal fraud involve cash theft and erroneous expense reports. Physical assets can also be stolen from the organization. Frequent periodic audit of asset inventories can prevent and detect this type of fraud. Outright theft of cash donations needs to be prevented.  Controls such as having two people observe and count cash donations, segregation of duties for the receiving and accounting for donations and other routine cash controls can be beneficial in reducing the risk of cash theft.

Expense reports are also often a conduit for fraud. A system for verifying expense reports should be implemented and expense reports and receipts should be examined prior to payment. Externally, fraud by vendors, either with collusion from an employee, or committed totally by the vendor is also a concern. Some scenarios include a manager authorizing payment for goods never received or authorizing payment to a nonexistent company where the funds are ultimately received by the authorizing employee.  Segregation of duties for payment and purchasing, effective computerized payment system controls, and dual signature requirements for checks can reduce risk of this type of fraud. Periodic checks of vendor records to ensure that vendors actually exist are also a deterrent.

Top management at non-profits can set the tone for fraud prevention by establishing effective internal control policies. One of these controls that may seem surprising is mandating employees take vacation time accrued. Fraud is more difficult to cover up when the employee committing it is absent. The average amount of time a fraudulent activity occurs prior to catching it is 18 months. Occasionally these schemes have gone on for years without being identified. Sometimes fraud is identified by audits or internal controls. Sadly, fraud is often not caught until an organization fails due to the impact from fraud. Even if an organization is financially able to weather an episode of fraud, the loss of good reputation can often hamper the organization’s future fundraising efforts.

The potential negative effects of fraud on the non-profit organization compel everyone in a non-profit to be aware of the need for fraud prevention. The success and reputation of the organization depends on it.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Marketing, Non-Profit, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , , ,

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