July 13: Juneau Empire on monitoring community nonprofits:

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2000

The strength of a community often best can be seen through the quality of its civic and nonprofit organizations. They are the underlying power that often fills the void where government leaves off.

They adopt highways, feed the homeless, provide shelter and relief in disasters, serve as mentors to children, and give us some of the best arts and entertainment we could ever hope for.

More often than not, these groups are staffed with few paid employees. Instead, their survival often is dependent upon the tireless work of countless volunteers who donate their time and talents free of charge because they believe in what the organization is doing.

So it comes as quite a shock when a volunteer in a key position is charged with stealing money. Such is the case that was reported in the Juneau Empire earlier this week, when board members of the Alaska Folk Festival said about $12,000 was missing. The group's former treasurer, Jim Demers, has been charged with one count of second-degree theft and one count of altering business records.

The real tragedy is that people's trust was broken. And it was broken at the expense of the folk festival, one of the premier organizations in town that provides us with some top-notch entertainment. And as is human nature, eyebrows are being raised all over town with people now concerned how their organization, or the ones they donate to, are watching their money.

It's unfortunate, but it's also reality. At the same time, however, let's not allow this incident to cloud the excellent work the folk festival and countless other organizations do for our community.

But this should serve as a lesson. A few key measures can often prevent future occurrences. These include requiring at least two signatures by board officers for all checks; monthly reviews by board members of all bank statements and financial transactions; and yearly audits.

These and other similar actions will help ensure the fiscal safety of organizations, and at the same time assure donors and volunteers their efforts are not being wasted.

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