Every now and then an event jars us into remembering how susceptible to theft many not-for-profit organizations are. Recently we were involved with a small not-for-profit organization that was shocked to discover its bank account had been cleaned out. Ten blank cheques were stolen, signatures poorly forged and the cheques cashed through ATMs over a ten day period. The organization is likely to recover the misappropriated funds. What can’t be recovered, however, is the extraordinary amount of volunteer time needed to deal with the police, the several financial institutions involved and the insurance company. We cannot even begin to describe the aggravation and extreme discomfort felt by all of the innocent parties involved.
Safeguarding your cash resources is vital. This is especially important as banking becomes less personal and access to ATMs and Internet transactions increases.
Your organization should implement at least the following policies to safeguard your financial resources:
- keep all blank cheques in a secure and preferably locked place
- never have pre-signed cheques in the office and, if you are a signing officer, never agree to pre-sign a cheque
- keep the signed cancelled cheques that are returned from the bank locked away in a safe place to minimize the opportunity for forging of signatures
- make bank deposits regularly to avoid having significant amounts of cash and cheques in the office
- consider having a deposit only debit card to make ATM deposits easy to do frequently
- keep petty cash safely locked up. If theft of petty cash is a problem consider purchasing a small safe from your local hardware store for about $200.
- maintain petty cash and petty cash receipts on hand at a constant amount (the “imprest basis”). Replenish the petty cash float only on submission of an itemized expense report with all receipts attached. For more on petty cash see December, 1996 [Volume I, Issue 11, p. 55].
- deposit all loose cash received directly in the bank and not in the petty cash box.
- Implement the same controls over authorization of Internet payements as you have over payment by cheque (i.e. have the same signing officers sign approve each Internet transfer prior to payment).
Implementing the above procedures will help minimize the opportunity for theft and the attendant aggravation and upset that goes with it.