To the editor:
There has been a lot of publicity the last few weeks in the Austin news about an Austin nonprofit that recently closed its doors. The Executive Director is charged with two counts of tampering with a governmental record, due to providing fraudulent audits to state agencies, possibly taking over $300,000 from the agency and leaving it hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to boot! The devastation left in the wake of this unfortunate situation is sobering: hundreds of families are left without child development and support services, some 30 employees lost their jobs overnight, people are in shock and feeling betrayed by someone they trusted, a substantial amount of public money as been stolen, and the list goes on.
As someone who has worked in the nonprofit world for over 10 years now, I cringe every time I see another news story about this. We have learned from past experience that this type of gross mismanagement and dishonesty shines a harsh light on all groups who are given money to serve people in need. And rightly so! People need to be careful to whom they give their hard earned dollars and should keep a watchful eye on every group they support. Public trust is both hard won and a precious resource.
The Hays County Food Bank (formerly the San Marcos Area Food Bank) is a public charity which means that all money and resources that we receive are held in trust for the public for our stated charitable purpose, feeding hungry people in Hays County. We have a moral and legal obligation to make sure that all of our resources are used for this sole mission. A situation like the tragedy in Austin clearly reminds us how important sound nonprofit management is.
It appears that the Executive Director from the Austin nonprofit was able to pull this off by faking several years of audits to cover her tracks. Eventually the house of cards came crashing down, but the money is long gone at this point. I want to assure the public that the Food Bank has multiple procedures in place to prevent this type of mismanagement from occurring. We employ an independent Certified Public Auditor to conduct an annual audit and make sure that the auditor presents the audit report in person to the entire board of directors each year. And our Treasurer carefully looks over all financial statements before they are presented to the Board of Directors at every monthly meeting.
In today’s economy, dollars are precious. Nonprofits everywhere must take a serious look at every expense and manage their resources carefully just to survive. There are many local nonprofits doing a great job managing the bottom line in this tight economy. They have dedicated staff and Boards of Directors who take their job of oversight and administration seriously. They do good work: they feed the poor, shelter abused women and children, clothe the homeless, help seniors pay for medicine and utility bills, etc. I applaud their ability to keep fighting the good fight, often in the face of overwhelming challenges.
I encourage donors to ask questions. They need to be aware of who is running the organizations they support, how money is being used and for what, and how it is accounted for. All well managed nonprofits will welcome your interest and be happy to show you the bottom line because they have nothing to hide. Get involved. Find a cause that speaks to your heart and offer to volunteer. There are people in our community who need your support.
The Food Bank’s annual Audit Report and IRS Form 990, can be found at www.HaysFoodBank.org
Thanks for your time.
Pat Tessaro, Community Relations Coordinator
Hays County Food Bank