Response to article by Washington Post
Inside the hidden world of thefts, scams and phantom purchases at the nation’s nonprofits
Nonprofits are built on trust, not suspicion. In fact, it's hard for many of them to do the work they do, and to do it well, unless they build a community with at least some level of trust. If that means that they must also bear the brunt of at least a portion of fraud, at the end of it all which is worse? Obviously, there must be limits, and basic measures of safety to protect the money and effort of those who work hard to support these nonprofits and don't like to see either their donations or their time wasted.
Of course they won't want to disclose when someone has robbed them. No one likes to admit being fooled. And what's worse, if they admit to it openly, it could dry up the well of donations, and that means they'll be even less able to do whatever work they initially set out to do.
And non-profits are built by people who set out to help. A profit based business begins with the premise of making money, and as such, those minds are focused, always, on money. They look at the money, they protect the money, their eyes are always and forever on the money. While that may also be where a criminal mindset is, when a thief sets out to steal, it is not where the helpers are looking. They're looking outward, to where the money is going, to how it's being spent. And while they may be watching money flowing out in one direction, it may be trickling from the back door as well.
Should we turn our non-profits into the kind of paranoid grind your day to day minimum wage worker lives under? You know those cameras facing all the checkout lines aren't really much for robberies. Those men wear masks. It's to catch employees stealing. There are stores where if you are so many cents off of your till, it's a write-up. Three write-ups and you're gone and out of a job. Not dollars, mind you. Cents. That could just mean you're bad at counting, and maybe you shouldn't be on a register but could be put to work somewhere else, or maybe you dropped some change.
Which is not to say there shouldn't be some kind of accountancy measures, or basic securities. But the kinds of embezzling and swindling schemes in this article look like decently smart jobs, the kind that don't get noticed immediately. They get noticed, but not until some real damage has been done. Are you really going to figure out the fake invoices from the fake company that the head of IT is ordering when you have a large company? A for-profit company might, if you double-checked every invoice and scanned through all the items, but the risk a non-profit takes there is suddenly all of your money goes to bureaucracy rather than doing good. Profit-based companies can be all about red tape if they want to be, they can thrive even on a heavy regimen of memos and meetings and PowerPoints. Some of the big non-profits do work like this, and as such, maybe 10% of your money (if you're lucky) actually goes toward helping anybody. And who really wants to donate to a company like that?
Sadly, theft is everywhere. And it's always, always a kind of tragedy. But I think rather than writing an article flogging companies for not being as slick as a wily conman, I think we should applaud those who have the courage to continue to have faith in humanity and put forth their trust, even though it feels like people don't deserve it. If you let the blow from one man bring you down, how many will you fail? Many good people come to work at non-profits, and to volunteer at non-profits, because they believe in something good. They go to escape the very evils the profit companies seem to press upon its workers. They go to band together for a common cause. Trust is such a rare commodity. We should be fighting to keep it, not condemning those who have it, who are courageous enough to give it, even when they, and in turn we, suffer for it.