Bad things happen and skatepark funds sometimes disappear. It’s much less common than you might think, but it does happen. Misunderstandings are responsible for most of the times that skatepark funds go missing. It’s very rare to have someone overtly “steal” the funds. Here are some things you can do to prevent misunderstandings (and theft) from obliterating your skatepark fundraising balance:
Establish clear guidelines within your group about when withdrawals are permitted, if at all. (We recommend only withdrawing your funds after you’ve met your fundraising goal.) Make it very clear to anyone within the group that handles donations that no money is meant to be spent on expenses, refreshments, snacks, or any other “discretionary” purpose.
Example: A member of the skatepark group decides to use a portion of the skatepark funds to host a wine and cheese fundraiser without informing the larger group. His thinking is that it’s a safe fundraising bet and that a little contribution to the skatepark bank account will be a nice surprise, plus the broader group doesn’t seem all that interested in fundraising events. When the event fails to break even, the person responsible needs to explain why the project didn’t work and what they should have done differently. Their well-intentioned fundraising event has actually set the whole project back.
Have regular audits performed on your bank account by someone unaffiliated with the skatepark organization. Their only task is to check the bank balance and report to the group (even via email) the total balance and any activity for the month. Your core group or skatepark advisory committee should have a treasurer. This person will also provide regular updates. The treasurer’s work should be confirmed independently by the auditor. If you are using a fiscal sponsor or donating directly to the Parks Department, they should be able to tell you on a regular basis exactly how much money exists in the fund.
Example: The volunteer bookkeeper has tallied the value of the in-kind donations in their summary. When the group’s director checks the bank account balance they are shocked to see a much smaller balance than expected. The lack of regular accounting practices leads to confusion and distress among the group.
Your group should have clear, written guidelines about what happens to the money if it is NOT used for the skatepark. This guideline should be agreed to by your fiscal sponsor if you are not managing your funds directly. This will prevent your fiscal sponsor or the Parks Department from cancelling the project or relationship with your group and using those funds for other purposes. Your balance sheet should indicate the source of the donation. When those sources are individuals or companies, the funds can be returned to the donor. When the sources are grassroots events and programs, such as coin jars and car washes, returning the donations is not feasible and those funds should be reallocated to another nonprofit with a similar mission.
Example: The skatepark suffers a series of setbacks. One by one the group’s members drift away. The effort eventually dies on the vine. The funds collected are reallocated inappropriately to the downtown merchants organization to hire additional security, no-skateboarding signs, and skateboarding deterrents. (Not exactly the thing your donors wanted to see their money go to.)
Keep a master record of all donations. This record will include the name of the donor, their address, phone and/or email, date and amount of donation. An extra layer of protection will include who the donation was given to, the check number (or “cash”), and any requests or premiums that may have been offered in return (e.g., “t-shirt”). Each volunteer that is receiving donations should keep a daily record, and those daily records should be compiled into a master record. This allows you to see how much money you’ve raised, what your most lucrative events were, who is collecting the most funds, and who is donating. Very important! Your tally should be identical to your treasurer’s report.
There are a few other good practices to ensure your funds are protected. These are not hard rules but rather simple practices that can alert you and your group to trouble before it begins.
Get it in writing. Any group that is pledging a donation or will have some positive (or negative) impact on your balance should be willing to put it in writing and “go on record” for the pledge. It can be challenging for some people to ask for pledges in writing because it seems ungrateful or conveys distrust. There are delicate ways of asking for assurances that the donation will happen, and you should do whatever you feel is appropriate to get those commitments of support in some form that can be shared with others.
It’s not a gift, it’s a relationship. Consider your donors and potential donors as individuals that are interested in the progress of your group’s mission. Fundraising is about building relationships and sharing your successes with the people that are backing you. You shouldn’t be expressing a potential donation as a gift or act of personal generosity, but rather as an opportunity to share in the long-term success and investment in the health of wellness of local youth.