This week, the former treasurer of a high school volleyball booster club pleaded guilty to sealing nearly $10,000 from the organization. When sentenced, she could face up to six years in prison. But this was not her first offense. In early 2013, she was arrested for embezzling allegedly $170,000 from her former employer. She pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to ten years of probation and ordered to pay more than $156,000 in restitution.
Embezzlement is a crime that is widespread among booster clubs from coast to coast. Behind each incident of embezzlement, you will find several common factors. Here are four:
- The perpetrator was in a position of trust. Let’s face it; volunteers are hard to come by. All too often, the majority of a booster club’s tasks fall upon the shoulders of a core group of volunteers. It is no wonder that organizations are quick to accept volunteers who raise their hands for leadership roles.However, a prudent organization will get to know its volunteers before electing them to office.Before you put new volunteers in positions of trust, ask yourself, what skills does the volunteer bring to the role? Does the volunteer work in the field of finance? Is the volunteer a manager within his or her company? Has anyone worked alongside this volunteer in prior extracurricular organizations?
It is important to be proactive in recruiting. Never enter into nominations or an election without first reaching out to potential volunteers. This will allow them time to fully consider the commitment they are being asked to make. It will also help to minimize the risk to the organization of accepting someone who may not be well suited for the role.
- The perpetrator did not have a criminal past. Embezzlement is a crime that entices its culprit as opportunities arise. Although you have taken steps to screen volunteer leaders, some may fall to temptation if the conditions are right. Fraud prevention experts commonly refer to the “10-10-80 rule” in categorizing potential thieves. Supposedly, “10 percent of people will never steal, no matter what, 10 percent of people will steal at any opportunity, and the other 80 percent… will go either way depending on how they rationalize a particular opportunity.”Pastor and author Bill Hybels defines character as, “who you are when no one’s looking.”1 Access to funds with few restrictions often exposes one’s true character, and may result in financial loss to the organization.
- Embezzlement happens over time, not in one incident. Embezzlement is a crime of “erosion” rather than one of “explosion.” The erosion often begins with a small, isolated theft. Over time, theft becomes more frequent and for larger amounts. Some perpetrators may justify their actions by thinking they are “borrowing” funds to make it through hard times, or to offset the hours they put in as volunteers.
- The perpetrator was operating independently. A lack of internal controls often gives one individual financial authority over the organization’s funds. This autonomy may lead to temptation that is too great to resist. Assuming that no one will find out, many perpetrators build the courage to take that first dollar, then another, and another. It is critically important to ensure that no individual has unsupervised access to the organization’s funds.
It is often difficult to identify a potential thief before placing him or her in a position of financial leadership. However, there are ways for booster clubs to insulate themselves from embezzlement, and in my prior post, I give you five.
To learn even more ways to ensure financial integrity in your booster club, check out my book, The Booster Leader, 35 Leadership Essentials for a Thriving Booster Organization. The Booster Leader is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.
Question: What does your booster club do to ensure financial integrity? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
1 Bill Hybels. Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).