Our View | All organizations should review controls, limit risk

July 12, 2013 

The news that the Centre County United Way’s former finance director had been charged with running up personal expenses on the organization’s credit card was stunning.

The situation should serve as a reminder to all organizations, including community-service nonprofits, to make sure a process of checks and balances is in place to protect both money and reputation.

Doris Conner, of Bellefonte, was charged Monday with using a Centre County United Way credit card to make $17,000 in personal charges over 10 years.

Her purchases included airline and entertainment tickets, and the payment of some personal bills.

Ferguson Township police hit Conner with felony charges of access device fraud, theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and receiving stolen property.

Tammy Gentzel, executive director of the local United Way, said Conner has paid partial restitution, and insurance will help bridge the gap.

“When the matter has been finalized, we are confident that there will be no loss to Centre County United Way, our partner agencies or our donors,” Gentzel said.

The CCUW learned of the credit card charges last year, when it changed its purchasing protocol and performed internal audits.

Conner met with the CCUW board in May and admitted what had happened. The United Way went to police, and on Monday the former finance director was formally charged, Gentzel said.

Local supporters of the United Way received letters about the situation dated Monday.

“We really want to convey to donors that their donations have not been misappropriated,” Gentzel told our reporter, Matt Carroll.

“Everything is accounted for, and we are confident all the money will be returned.”

The United Way chose to wait until the legal process was in motion to comment or inform its supporters, which seems prudent.

But some damage from this incident may still be felt — beyond the embarrassment. In our informal online poll, 55 percent of respondents said the situation could impact future decisions about giving to the charitable organization, which is unfortunate.

We hope the Centre County United Way rebounds quickly and moves forward with a system of tighter controls on those spending agency money, as Gentzel said will happen.

All local organizations should be re-evaluating their safety nets in the wake of this news.

The United Way was hardly the first and won’t be the last organization to learn that someone it trusted may have abused that relationship.

The CCUW was fortunate that the loss totaled $17,000 and that the full amount may be recovered.

We’ve seen entities, from businesses to fire departments to churches, lose much more and never regain anything close to the full amount.

Even diligent organizations sometimes find themselves saying, as Gentzel did, “We were deeply shocked and saddened by the discovery.”

Take steps to minimize the risk.

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