Learn How to Avoid Procedural Disaster... From a Center Who's Been There

Swipe-Your-Debit-Card 1by Jay Hobbs, Communications and Marketing Director

"Julie" went through the usual rounds of interviews. With every phone call, background check, in-person visit, and interaction, it was clear God had shown the board of Anytown Pregnancy Resource Center their next executive director.

Though the first three years brought with them their typical bumps and bruises, by years four and five, Julie and the board had a smooth working relationship. The board trusted Julie with the day-to-day business of the organization, while she welcomed their leadership and support.

Preparations were in the works for an early summer banquet when "Shelly," the board chair, answered a phone call she never thought she'd have to take.

Julie was resigning, effective immediately. But those words had hardly reached her ears when the reason why cascaded down on her: Julie wasn't just resigning, she was being arrested.

As the days and weeks progressed, it became apparent that Julie had fallen into a pattern of using her Anytown PRC credit card for personal purchases, to the tune of $30,000 over more than a year's time.

The board, according to Shelly, had grown lax on holding Julie accountable for her spending, forgoing procedural structure in the name of trust and friendship.

"One thing still baffles me," Shelly, who has served on the board of directors for close to a decade, says. "When we hired Julie, her testimony and fervent desire to do God's will seemed very real.

"Each meeting began with a short devotion and prayer or around the table prayer time at which time most if not all, not only thanked and praised God, but asked for wisdom and guidance which is why I made the first statement. We trusted and had faith but didn't follow through on our responsibility of accountability."

In the wake of the jarring news, Shelly and the board scrambled to respond. The first orders of business were to postpone an upcoming fundraiser and break the news to volunteers in an impromptu meeting.

The following days were filled with an unfortunate list of to-dos, including notifying local ministers and supporters while, most painful of all, closing the doors to the center while a forensic audit took place and legal details were being sorted out.

It was during this time that Shelly and the board realized they had made another oversight in the years leading up to Julie's arrest. After its long-time legal advisor retired, the board had failed to replace him, leaving a painful gap at a time when legal advice and even representation were suddenly at a premium.

Lessons Learned

Now several months removed from the initial crisis, Shelly and the board have found a local pro-life attorney who not only provides Anytown PRC with the necessary counsel, but who has become an energetic partner in the ministry.

Meanwhile, Shelly has seen to it that board meetings moving forward take on a distinct, far more diligent tone, which will include reviewing each credit card statement and receipt as a group.

"We made a decision for the board to meet and take turns reading and discussing each policy and procedure, and the by-laws as well," Shelly says. "Reading and knowing plus understanding are very different. Also, we now have more than one person to have access to our tracking and reporting systems to increase accountability across our organization."

Moving forward, Shelly hopes the struggles her board, staff, volunteers, community members, and clients have had to endure serve as a clear cautionary lesson to other pregnancy help organizations.

"My advice is to put good policies and procedures in place, and then adhere to them," she says. "Have accountability in place. Empower multiple people to access the systems your organization uses for both donor tracking and accounting purposes."

The above is a true story with actual quotes from the involved chair of the board of directors. The names, organization name, and location have been changed to protect privacy.