One thing that has emerged from the allegations that Scott Cooper took money from the Oklahoma SPJ chapter is a renewed focus on good financial practices.
President-elect Sonny Albarado is the chair of a committee that has looked at what happened, but also talked about ideas for encouraging sound accounting and record-keeping.
The first item on a list of best practices the committee drafted resonated when I read it: “Require two signatures on all checks.”
I am on the board of the Washington, D.C., Pro chapter. We do a good job watching our money and spending it carefully. But we do not practice the two-signature guideline. I think we should.
Too many crime stories about the treasurer of this fraternal group or that Little League absconding with money mention a common weakness: that one person wrote and signed checks and could hide embezzlement fairly easily, at least for a while. We shouldn’t rely on the integrity of a treasurer alone; structural safeguards need to be place.
Albarado said during Saturday’s Executive Committee meeting in Washington, D.C., that getting two signatures can be a hardship for chapters covering large areas, whose officers can’t readily meet to sign a check.
Perhaps. But several other measures on the best practices list can add layers of financial security, such as:
– “Require officer approval of any expenditure over $25; board approval of any expenditure over $100.”
– “Avoid credit/debit cards; they are too easily abused.”
– “When depositing funds in the chapter bank account, use a “For Deposit Only” rubber stamp on the back of checks. No individual should sign a check made out to the chapter.”
SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel said that any one of the key measures could have prevented the theft of money from the Oklahoma chapter.
All pro and student chapter leaders and advisors should read the list and think about whether their chapter can improve.
I suggested at the Executive Committee meeting that SPJ have a stronger, more specific requirement for annual financial reviews than what’s currently on the chapter report. But I learned that this might not be possible, since SPJ chapters are separate entities and can’t be squarely under the thumb of the national organization in this way.
So, we’re left with prodding, needling, cajoling and other semi-forceful tactics for getting chapters to be prudent in their financial records.
Some SPJ leaders talked last week about bookkeeping and accounting into a how-to guide for chapters on preparing a good chapter report. I wondered if that was enough, if a vital responsibility might be buried as part of a broader topic.
I commend headquarters, though, for distributing the best practices list quickly (on Monday – two days after the meeting) and making it a stand-alone topic.
The Executive Committee also agreed that there should be a program on finances at this year’s national convention and that SPJ should create a webinar of 7 to 10 minutes,
Any other suggestions?