It’s been over six months since I last blogged about fraud risk in small businesses and nonprofits. Tax season and the new tax law must have distracted me. But fraud has not stopped lurking, robbing organizations of their hard-earned funds.
In case you forgot, fraud is an illegal act involving deceit, concealment, or a violation of trust. Fraud doesn’t involve physical threats of violence or force. Fraud is committed to obtain money, property, or services; to avoid payment or loss of services; or to secure personal or business advantage.
Fraud is not unique to any one type of organization. The opportunity to commit fraud exists everywhere, including public and private businesses and nonprofits. Small businesses and nonprofits are even more susceptible to fraud because of typically lower levels of staffing and technology. Plus, the environment at nonprofits and small businesses espouses trust that could be exploited by people who are unscrupulous or experiencing extreme financial pressures.
First — recognize that fraud can happen. Second — implement an action plan to help prevent fraud from happening. How? Minimize the chances that fraud will happen at your organization with these three tips:
Separate Tasks – The most powerful weapon against fraud is separating tasks or duties that should not be performed by the same person, like separating expense approval and payment from the person who reconciles the bank account. Separating duties prevents one person from having too much control over financial activities so that she or he could take funds without detection.
Investigate Anomalies – Identify anomalies, or exceptions, from expected conditions or results. Is your cash flow within a normal expected range? Are your sales returns higher than usual? Investigate performance and results that fall outside the expected range and take action. Looking into unusual activity could draw attention to and end fraudulent activities. Even if no fraud has occurred, you can take corrective action as needed.
Independent Monitoring – Periodic independent monitoring by a knowledgeable party is another way to safeguard financial assets. Methods include supervisor reviews, periodic audits and effective governance. Exception reports or anomalies should ideally be investigated by someone who is independent of the original activity. Nonprofits with limited staff can involve the Board Treasurer in the monitoring process.
Important steps for preventing fraud are to recognize that fraud can happen and to implement an action plan to mitigate the risk of loss. Powerful weapons like separating tasks, investigating anomalies and independent monitoring all reduce the risk of losing money, property, services or reputation. Trust is great; implementing fraud prevention tips is priceless.
Last week, I was thrilled to discuss business finances with the 2019 Class of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneur Academy, also known as YEA! In the YEA! Program, entrepreneurs grades 8-12, develop their ideas into robust business plans and launch their business. YEA! Entrepreneurs also pitch their business plans to an investor panel and compete for funding.
YEA! Entrepreneurs, like all business owners, need to know about planning and managing their finances. We only had an hour, so we covered three basic areas that support every entrepreneur’s success, regardless of age:
Separate Business Accounts and Financial Records
Open a separate business account soon as possible to avoid commingling personal and business funds. Apply for a business credit card to support cash flow needs and to avoid putting business expenses on your personal credit card. Establish separate financial records from records used to maintain your personal income and expenses. Separating personal and business finances gives you an isolated view of your business so you can better track your progress. Separate records also help to establish that you are operating business, not a hobby.
Track and Monitor Financial Activity
Keep a record of all business income and expenses up-to-date. Updated records allow you a clear view of your financial situation at any point in time. Expenses should be tracked by category, such as rent and advertising, so you know where your funds are going. No particular system or format is required for your financial records. The IRS just requires that financial records are accurate, complete, and provide enough detail to identify the underlying source documents. Produce and review monthly financial reports.
Adjust as Needed
A budget is a plan for your income and expenses, to prioritize your activities and provide a baseline to monitor your progress toward achieving your goals. Assess the significant variances between your monthly financial reports and your budget. Focus on the income and expense variances that relate to the most critical areas for achieving your business goals. Didn’t meet your budget? Don’t see it as a failure; see it as an opportunity to assess your plan, adjust your activities and try again.
My time discussing business finances with the 2019 Class of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce YEA! was fun. The YEA! Entrepreneurs asked sophisticated questions and shared experiences in their own business that I learned from. I’m so glad that the future business world is in these YEA! Entrepreneurs’ capable hands!
One of the most challenging aspects of working with my tax clients is organizing their tax documents. Disorganized or incomplete tax records can mean paying a higher tax bill because IRS rules state that all deductions must be supported by documentation. Lacking documentation is a problem, but organizing all those documents can present a problem, too.
If the pain of tax filing season and gathering all those documents is still fresh in your mind, why not prepare now and avoid the pain of gathering all your tax documents? Luckily, I co-presented a workshop last month called Tips and Tools to Efficiently Manage Financial Information and Get Back to Your Clients. My co-presenter, Alexandra Suchman of AIS Collaborations, and I shared a lot of useful information to save time and create efficiencies.
Alexandra has developed a free downloadable guide to inspire business owners and nonprofits to take action and get organized. The guide provides a step-by-step roadmap to create a customized organizing system for electronic files and folders. I’ve looked at it, and this guide addresses common problem that wastes the time of individuals, teams, and whole businesses — searching for important documents. All of those five or ten minutes of searching really add up.
Alexandra generously gave me permission to share the link to the landing page where anyone who is interested can download a copy. She also shared, “I created a short video where I talk about why this is such an important process improvement.” How wonderful to get a free, handy guide for how to create a folder and file management system that works for you, plus a video to walk you through the process!
Having a system for organizing your tax documents lets you stay in control over the mountains of information that come your way, eliminating confusion, wasted time, and stress. Alexandra’s guide to organizing electronic files and folders is the perfect starting point for overcoming the challenge of organizing tax documents. Organized and complete tax records really can mean paying a lower tax bill.