The recent arrest of Sandra Yost for allegedly stealing more than $13,000 from the Fulton United Soccer Club should remind all of us of the need for strict scrutiny of the finances of our local nonprofit organizations. Yost served as treasurer for the Fulton United Soccer Club, which police said gave her access to the club's money, enabling her to write checks to family members and her own personal use. This allegedly occurred from 2007-11.
Gloversville Police Chief Donald VanDeusen said the alleged theft was uncovered when the soccer club did an audit of its finances and provided figures to city police, who then provided them to the state police financial crimes unit. The state police unit then conducted an investigation. Police have said more arrests are possible.
Regardless of the outcome of the charges against Yost, this sad story, and other similar stories that have occurred locally in recent years, demonstrates the need for precise systems of internal checks and balances within nonprofits to prevent any one person from exclusive access to the money. This is a burdensome chore, to be sure, and we acknowledge the members of the boards of directors for many nonprofits often are overworked volunteers. Many of these volunteers would prefer their organizations operate on the same kinds of values upon which they were founded: community, trust and honesty. The truth is, however, we can't allow the appearance of integrity to substitute for a system that verifies integrity. To quote President Ronald Reagan, "trust but verify."
Members of the public also can help improve the integrity of local nonprofits by using online resources such as the website guidestar.org. Guidestar has a free search engine that allows Internet users to search for the 990 federal tax forms required of every nonprofit organization. These forms can explain a lot about the internal operations of a nonprofit, including how much their executives may be paid. It was information from a 990 tax form that revealed the Fulton County Economic Development Corp. paid two of its executives exorbitant bonuses.