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MIP Fund Accounting

Trust, But Verify: Avoid Fraud by Maintaining Internal Controls

By | Accounting, Fraud, Internal Controls, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments

Trust, so the experts tell us, must be earned over time. In the workplace, it is earned by consistently performing one’s duties well and by successfully accepting ever-increasing responsibilities.

The nonprofit workplace, like the for-profit workplace, works best in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect among one’s colleagues. Without it, the workplace can be hostile, unfriendly, and uncomfortable.

But there is a fine line between suspicion and performing due diligence. Nonprofit organizations should guard against allowing trust to blindside them to the potential dangers of fraud and theft in the workplace.

A Cautionary Tale of the Ramifications of Blind Trust

One story that stands out is the story of Marge (not her real name), who worked at a large nonprofit organization. She was like a second mother to the staff. Honest, always willing to work extra hours, diligent in her job duties in the accounting department, Marge was trusted with managing many areas of the organization’s finances.

Although the organization had internal controls in place, they were often waived for Marge and other senior staff members who were so well-regarded and trusted that they weren’t questioned when they dodged the procedures. Marge was especially trusted and valued and did not have anyone present when she counted out petty cash or handled the checkbook.

One day it was discovered that money was missing from the petty cash. An audit revealed that small amounts of money had been taken from the petty cash box as well as from the checking account. Because Marge controlled both, she could make slight adjustments in the entry ledgers to avoid suspicion for a long time. It took the auditors only a short while to uncover the discrepancies and for Marge to confess that her lottery ticket habit had become a necessity and that she had been stealing ever increasing amounts to fuel an obsession with gambling.

Is Marge an isolated case? We think not, and a quick survey of the various nonprofit journals reveals similar patterns of fraud. Fraud doesn’t occur in isolation. It tends to occur when gaps are left within the internal controls that are intended to prevent such situations. In this case, trust and friendship overrode common sense. Exceptions were made that should not have been made. The result was an organization poorer for the loss of both money and a trusted employee who had to be let go when the truth was revealed.

Preventing and Identifying Fraud

Trust is a wonderful thing and a valued commodity in the workplace. That said, it should not preclude the use of standards, internal controls, and audits.

  • Preventing Fraud
    • Standards are the accepted norms for an industry. Accounting standards, security standards, and workplace standards can be codified and recorded in written manuals provided to all employees. Everyone can then be held to the same shared standard of conduct and behavior.
    • Internal controls are the processes and procedures put into place around access to the organization’s finances. These controls should be written down and shared among staff. Training sessions and refresher training session are also important to ensure consistent understanding of the controls among everyone.
  • Recognizing Fraud:
    • Audits bring in outside consultants such as CPA firms, well-versed in accounting for nonprofits to examine your organization’s financial records, provide recommendations, and discover discrepancies.
    • Provide staff with an anonymous method to report incidences of fraud to their supervisors or to the managers in your organization.

Trust doesn’t have to be blind. Assuring people that their work matters, listening to their ideas, implementing their suggestions and other positive examples of trust can build bonds among workers that engender loyalty to your organization. Don’t leave your nonprofit open to fraud or theft due to blind trust. Trust, but verify, and stick to accepted norms and standards of behavior and internal controls to prevent problems before they occur.

About Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

Personalized Training Plans Offer More Meaningful Professional Development

By | Abila, Accounting, Government, Grant Management, HR, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit, Professional Development, Training | No Comments

CPAs, like other professionals, need an additional 40 hours of continuing education units annually to maintain their certification. Even if your industry does not require taking continuing education courses, everyone benefits from refresher courses and keeping abreast of changes and developments in their industry.

There is great value to designing a personalized plan for continuing professional development. These plans build a customized training roadmap for individuals, so that instead of taking a prescribed set of courses to meet your continuing education requirements, you create your own curriculum. Here’s why they work.

The Benefits of Personalized Professional Development Plans

  1. Relevant: Personalized course plans are highly relevant. They take into consideration your currently level of skills, interests, and needs, as well as those of your employer or company. You can choose the courses that are right for you and fit your personal learning goals.
  2. Flexible: You choose when you wish to take the courses, creating a plan that lets you take courses on the weekends, at night, or even during your lunch hour. You aren’t locked into a set schedule.
  3. Higher completion rate: Because the courses in your personalized plan are relevant and on a schedule that meets your needs, they tend to have a higher completion rate than other courses.
  4. More feedback and interaction: Some personal development plans include interaction with a mentor or trainer, providing more personalized feedback and interaction from the one to one mentoring.
  5. Noticeable difference: Personal plans offer you the added bonus of being able to identify specific goals to work towards. You can document progress toward your goals through milestones and checkpoints. Not only does this help you achieve them, it also helps you see both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture. You can see just how far you’ve come.

Does Personalized Professional Development Stand Alone?

Most companies blend both personalized development with general professional development activities,  offering both the benefits of personalization and group interaction that’s valuable for team building and shared knowledge.

Why Professional Development Matters

Lifelong learning is important for all professions. While we tend to think of professional development for teachers, accountants, financial managers, others benefit from continually sharpening their skills.

Professions change over time. New governmental and IRS regulations, for example, may change how accountants and financial planners manage specific tasks and functions. Yes, you can read about these changes in professional journals or online bulletins from the managing organizations, but in some cases, in-depth professional development through workshops, conferences, or classes may be the best way to completely understand something new.

Technology is changing how CPAs manage data, how sales and marketing professionals do their jobs, and how human resources managers organize their files. By taking additional professional development courses in technology-enhanced areas, you’ll be able to maximize the use of such  developments to create a stronger, better organization.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

Going Faster Isn’t the Answer. How Nonprofit Leaders Improve Decision Making.

By | Abila, Accounting, Budget, Data, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments

The phone is ringing off the hook and you have 3,000 emails waiting for an answer. Meetings are booked back-to-back and your desk looks like someone dumped a file cabinet on it. If that sounds familiar, it’s time to take a deep breath and rethink how you’re handling your day.

We each get 24 hours in a day, and some of that time must be spent on things like sleeping, eating, and personal needs…but many of us feel that if we can cram more into our workdays, we’re improving our productivity. We take classes on productivity, buy fancy journals or add apps for time management, and wonder what we’re doing wrong when we get buried under an avalanche of work.

Where we go wrong is easy to spot. We think that by going faster and working harder, we’ll eventually catch up. We try to multi-task, cram more tasks into each hour, and find new ways of working while commuting, showering, or sleeping (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but how many of us would find ways to work if we could while we sleep?).

Instead of working harder and doing more, noted professor Harry Kraemer of the Kellogg School suggests a radical new approach to managing the deluge of tasks facing most professionals. Rest, reflect, and reset is the mantra of the truly successful person.

Why Doing More Isn’t Better

The problem with always trying to do more is that you never have time to do what will truly make an impact.

Authentic and effective leadership requires thoughtful planning. Leaders may have natural talent and abilities, but they must put those talents into action after considering the facts around them. Without the time to reflect, the action may be ineffective.

Self Reflection Leads to Better Decisions

Leaders know that they have two main tasks: to prioritize what is important and to find the resources needed to get the important tasks completed. But you can’t prioritize if you don’t take the time for self reflection.

Self reflection is more than thinking about what you’ve done during the day and what you’d like to accomplish tomorrow. It includes thinking about what you need to do differently.

If you’re so busy you don’t have time to breathe, let alone think, you won’t be able to think outside of your current situation. You’ll continue to try solutions that haven’t worked but are comfortable and familiar. And when it comes to problem-solving, comfortable and familiar are not a leader’s friends.

Systematized Self Reflection for Leaders

To make self reflection a reality instead of a wish, it’s important to systematize it. By setting up a system for reflection, observation, and action, you incorporate self reflection into your day.

The following steps may make it easier to incorporate self-reflection in your leadership skills.

  1. Set aside 15 minutes for writing out your reflection.
  2. Write down your thoughts about the day. Include questions, problems, and tasks you need to tackle next.
  3. Keep a running list of items to follow up on as well as the second list of items to explore.
  4. Consider both big-picture thoughts as well as the minutia of the day.
  5. Make self reflection a daily habit.

Self reflection builds strong leaders, teams, and companies. It’s a simple task that only takes 15 minutes a day to complete. Instead of constantly speeding up and trying to do more in a day, taking a brief break to reflect, refashion, and recommit to our goals can help build a better company and create stronger leaders.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

CPA Continuing Education – Ideas and Tips for Professional Development

By | Abila, Accounting, Audit, CPA, Grant Management, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments

Passing the CPA exam is only the first step in a long series of challenges for CPAs. One ongoing challenge is meeting the required 40 hours annually of professional development.

Large, public accounting firms and big corporations may arrange to send their CPAs for annual professional development workshops and classes to help you meet the 40-hour requirement. CPAs who own their own businesses or who work for smaller companies don’t have that luxury.

It can be difficult to take time away from your own accounting practice to take classes that satisfy your continuing education requirements. Let’s face it; if you can take a week off, you want to go to the beach or the mountains, not to a stuffy meeting room. It can also be expensive to pay for airfare, hotel, and workshop fees.

There are alternatives to the typical round of workshops and conferences offering professional development hours for CPAs. On-demand learning is the latest method of distance learning that offers flexibility with the quality for certification credits.

On-Demand Learning for CPAs

On-demand learning for CPAs consists of online courses, workshops, and seminars. Those that receive CPA credit hours count towards your annual 40-hour certification requirement.

You can find on-demand learning from many providers:

  • Companies offering workshops in conjunction with products or services
  • Consulting firms offering on-demand learning on a variety of accounting topics
  • Professional organizations and groups
  • Local colleges and universities
  • Online learning organizations and companies offering a variety of classes.

In all cases, check to make sure that the workshop you are interested in attending qualifies for CPA certification requirements.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Learning Opportunities

There are several factors to consider when assessing on-demand learning opportunities. These include:

  • Quality: You’re going to spend 40 hours each year participating in workshops and classes. Make sure they are of the highest quality and relevant to your needs. Look for courses that address relevant topics. Instructors should be fellow CPAs or otherwise highly qualified to teach the subject matter. It’s also helpful if instructors are currently working as CPAs. People who are currently working as CPAs and senior accountants can answer questions and offer insights into common workplace scenarios more easily than those with solely academic qualifications.
  • Affordability: One of the best things about on-demand learning is its affordability. Because most on-demand courses can be taken online, you immediately save money on travel expenses. You can also sandwich them into your day, taking them at lunchtime, in the evenings, or on weekends if they are pre-recorded. Most online courses and other on-demand learning opportunities are reasonably priced. Some are even free. A subscription-based continuing education provider can also provide greater savings, with an unlimited number of courses available to you during the subscription period.
  • Speed: Another great benefit of on-demand learning is that it is self-paced. You can take classes as you need them. You don’t have to wait for a specific conference or workshop. Although it’s not smart to leave your continuing education requirements until the last minute, if you do get to the end of the year and find yourself lacking a few course hours, you can usually find an on-demand course to take online that will let you complete your requirement in record time.

Who doesn’t like to save time or money while learning valuable information? On-demand professional development answers the need for CPAs to finish their 40 hours of annual continuing education in a way that fits their needs.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.