Severe weather alerts are loud, obnoxious and clearly intended to get our attention. They come in the form of ear-piercing beeps on the TV screen interrupting regular programming to display radars and “watch” and “warning” areas where people need to remain alert. Or, even scarier, they’re blaring beeps on the radio that overtake the station telling us to take shelter. These alerts serve a purpose, and for years they triggered my wildest fear.
Suppose as a child you hated “bad” weather; didn’t like dark clouds, heavy winds, or the clap of thunder, and hid under your covers until the storms passed. As an adult,, when you had lived through enough crazy weather, you realized you could listen to warnings and take action to keep yourself and others safe in the event of an approaching severe storm.
How helpful would it be to have these types of alerts for the real life “bad” – might I say “severe” – things that happen in our workplaces? For example, the perfect storm for fraud (pretty much the worst of the “bad” things that can happen) may very possibly be brewing right this minute in our workplaces. Just imagine if a jarring bell sounded when there was some warning sign that a volunteer was feeling mounting financial pressures at home, or a fictitious vendor was making her way through your financial system, or a hacker was perusing your donor data.
We don’t have these audible warnings. Instead we, as employees, managers, and board members, often find out too late, when the money or information is already gone, or when we’re left trying to make sense of how someone we trusted perpetrated fraud.
The “ASAP” Call
As a consultant, I oftentimes get calls from board members who says they need help ASAP,:i.e.,, “We found out something unbelievably bad happened, here’s what we’ve done so far,, so, now, what should we do?”
These calls are hard to receive, and even harder to make for those dedicated employees serving mission-driven nonprofit organizations. The management team or board members are giving their time, talent, and treasures to organizations with a mission, about which they’re passionate. They have trust in their co-workers and vendors and don’t want to believe, or even plan for, bad things happening. And, fraud – an intentional diversion of funds from the mission, perpetrated by someone inside or outside the organization – is oftentimes the furthest thing from their mind. So, when fraud strikes, panic often ensues.
How to Prepare
The only way to respond efficiently to something unexpected is to institute prevention measures to avoid these pitfalls and be prepared with a plan of action, which you formulated in advance, rather than reacting emotionally to an emergency situation. I’ve narrowed down the top three things I think we can learn from those weather alerts when it comes to fraud preparedness:
- Fraud Awareness is key. Just like meteorologists look at models, forecasts, and radars, nonprofit management and board members should always have their radars up and remain alert. It is essential to understand the pressures, incentives, and opportunities real-life humans face that might lead them to do things you’d never think they could do. And, you can’t raise awareness without open lines of communication.
- Fraud is not a forbidden four letter word. What I mean here, is talk about fraud. Use the word in meetings, talk about how it’s showing up in the news, and how others are dealing with it. Make it part of your organization’s dialogue. We might not want to talk about hurricanes, tornadoes, or flash floods, but they are real and by talking about fraud and how to prepare and plan for survival, everyone knows the organization is on the alert for fraud, the fear of talking about fraud is reduced and the power of a well-laid plan takes over.
- Create and practice a fraud drill. If we know and practice tornado drills, why wouldn’t we have a plan in place that we practiced in the event of fraud? Crisis management, including disaster recovery, should encompass who, what, when, where, and how to deal with this situation. Create a plan, share your plan, and even practice it to create comfort in the process and find ways to improve it.
We all will continue to wish for blue skies and sunny days, just like we hope that fraud doesn’t hit us and our organization. But, the reality is that none of us have that control. So, instead, I strongly encourage you to act by raising your own awareness, opening dialogue, and creating and practicing what you’d do if fraud ever struck your organization.
At Welter Consulting we are committed to finding you the most affordable technology, the most powerful solution, and providing expert support. Welter Consulting partners with each nonprofit and is committed to providing solutions that preserve time and resources, by leveraging technology and superior reporting that allows organizations to focus on impacting their communities. We e passionate professionals who choose to work in the nonprofit sector for the same reason you do – helping others. Please give us a call at (206) 605-3113.