SOX Best Practices and the Nonprofit Executive in .NET

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to management, stringent procedures for travel claims and management of expense accounts, and transparency in their dealings Modeling the behavior is the most effective method of communicating that SOX compliance is not a fad Before the Executive Team can talk to the organization about fraud, they need to either augment their current ethical standards or design standards that will address common areas of executive fraud Some of the more troublesome areas for nonprofits have been: Loans and gifts to executives: Nonprofit boards often agree to loans and gifts to executives as incentives or as rewards for performance Bonuses and perks: CEOs and members of the Executive Team either are rewarded bonuses and perks by the board, or they institute such practices either overtly or covertly with implicit board approval Excessive Compensation and Benefits packages: Congress and state legislatures have taken up the issue of executive compensation because excessive compensation has been a recurring factor in nonprofit scandals Expense accounts and travel claims: Financial misappropriation often is hidden in transactions involving expense accounts and travel claims Lack of an enforceable Code of Ethics: Having a Code of Ethics is not just for show Members of the board and the Executive Team are obligated to conduct themselves accordingly and need to be subject to disciplinary measures including termination for unethical conduct Lack of an enforceable Conflict of Interest policy: Similarly, a Conflict of Interest policy should apply to the board and Executive Team alike At the very minimum, the preceding issues should be addressed in the nonprofit s HR policies The Executive Team leads the way in changing the nonprofit s culture by adopting ethical practices and ensuring that they set the example by their business dealings Do not expect the rest of the nonprofit s staff and volunteers to change their behavior unless they see that the Executive Team has adopted these measures as part of daily operations, and that the Executive Team is willing to hold themselves accountable How to Talk to Your Nonprofit about Fraud The Executive Team needs to be candid about the factors that support fraud, and why the implementation of SOX requirements and best practices will help the nonprofit reduce the potential for fraud within the organization The team also needs to be resolute in its approach Don t be sidetracked by the long-time staff person or volunteer whose feelings will be hurt if protocols and expectations are changed The well-being of your nonprofit comes first These individuals will just have to get over their hurt if they want to remain part of the nonprofit Management needs to be very clear about their message to all staff and volunteers Change is not negotiable Our nonprofit will change with or without you
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Framework for Fraud There are supporting factors within a nonprofit or any organization that facilitate opportunities for fraud: Motivation: People have to want to engage in fraudulent activities and believe that there will be few if any consequences if they are ever caught The occasion for the fraud to take place: In other words, there is an open door or opportunity to engage in fraudulent activities Sloppy or nonexistent internal controls: It s easier to cover one s tracks when there are no protocols or records kept Access to electronic databases and online checking: Often, electronic records will need to be altered to cover the fraud Individuals who have access to sensitive databases are in a position to set up sham accounts and issue checks to themselves Organizational culture: The environment either denies the possibility of anyone committing fraud, or even more insidious, a culture that transforms staff and volunteers into martyrs How many times have you heard people say, We work so hard here for so little money Even more serious is the Executive Team s enabling of this dysfunctional attitude We pay these people so little, we really can t expect them to agree to these requirements A board of directors that is asleep at the wheel: How often do we hear stories about fraud committed at nonprofit organizations only to learn that the board knew nothing about it and suspected nothing SOX requirements will provide individuals with the opportunity to report waste, fraud, or abuse without fear of retaliation Document preservation will facilitate more efficient record keeping and provide auditors (external and internal) with better data for their review The overall strengthening of the internal controls that comes with the implementation of best practices will further reduce the opportunities for fraud, and will introduce a change in the organizational culture The Executive Team s Role in Setting the Organization s Values and Shaping its Culture In 3, we discussed the elements of organizational culture and how this invisible element shapes the profile of a nonprofit We examined how an organization s culture can contribute to its dysfunction Organizational culture is not set in stone it can be changed and in order to implement Sarbanes-Oxley requirements and best practices, often the essence of a nonprofit s culture needs to change The primary change agents are the board and the Executive Team These leaders begin the process and use strategies along the way that bring about a sea change in the way in which a nonprofit does business, looks at its programs, its clients, its donors, its staff, and its future
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