It’s difficult to believe, but every year parent-volunteers steal enough money from booster clubs to cripple if not gut some of the sports, band, theatre and other activities those dollars were intended to support. The problem has become big enough that one organization is launching a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and push for greater financial controls within those same clubs.
Before we go farther, let’s set the record straight: 99.99% of parent-volunteers are to be commended for donating their time, efforts, expertise and money to make these clubs the success stories that they are.
Unfortunately a few bad apples are taking advantage of lax club fundraising and accounting practices to fatten their own pockets. According to the nonprofit, Parent Booster USA, roughly one new case of booster club theft is reported each week.
Indeed, a recent NBC News investigation uncovered thefts ranging from $2,200 to a staggering $439,000. In many cases, the culprits were regularly skimming cash from the car washes, bake sales, and other fundraising activities that these clubs depend on to keep their activities going. And with school budgets being cut, such funds are more important than ever.
Booster clubs are particularly vulnerable to theft because they primarily deal in cash and there are few if any of the checks and balances usually in place in businesses and more well-established nonprofit organizations.
In one recent Virginia case, for example, the treasurer for the Oscar Smith High School marching band’s booster club quietly stole roughly $14,000 over a two year period before a couple of bounced checks alerted administrators to the problem. The treasurer, Kimberly Compitello, served 79 days of a 90-day sentence and was ordered to pay restitution.
Unfortunately, her case is not unique. Over the past five years, for example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports more than $200,000 stolen from parent-teacher and booster groups just in the Atlanta area. “The problem is that school fundraising groups are run by parent volunteers where the trust level is high,” says Parent Booster USA founder, Sandra Englund. Additionally, “financial controls are low and money walks away.”
Englund and the law enforcement officials with knowledge of these crimes say that the culprits rarely fit a particular profile. “These are everyday moms, dads, coaches and school officials who have some problem or issue that motivates them to steal,” Englund told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.” The reality is people everywhere are tempted, and make mistakes and do bad things.”
The problem is deemed significant enough that Englund and her group this week will launch #ittakes2, a national campaign to raise awareness about booster club thefts and the need for more stringent oversight and safeguards.
So how do booster clubs, PTAs, and other volunteer-based organizations avoid becoming victims of theft? Says Englund, who is a lawyer by trade: “If you do only one thing — never leave anyone alone to count the cash — you can help stop the problem by taking away the opportunity to steal.” Other steps include:
- Cash should be counted at the event site with at least two people present and making notes
- Use online systems for accepting payments and other financial transactions
- All cash should be immediately deposited in the bank
- Ensure bank statements are regularly received and reconciled against financial records
- Club Boards should adopt annual budgeting and review processes
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