Many years ago, back when I was working in the field of Early Childhood Education, I met a woman who was the mother of one of my students. She was a single mother working on her degree at Oregon State University. She had recently moved into a new rental home, and had hired me to help her with some of her moving, as well as do some babysitting on the side.
Since I did not get paid a great deal for my work at the childcare center, I had no qualms about getting side work to supplement my meager wages. After helping her carry and place furniture where she wanted it, and unpacking the contents some boxes onto shelves, she handed me a screwdriver and a new toilet seat she purchased at a local hardware store.After I removed the old toilet seat which was not damaged in any way, I installed the new one.
I asked her why she replaced the old seat. She told me she didn’t know anything about the previous tenant, where they had been or what their cleaning regimen was like, and it made her feel better having her own toilet seat that nobody else had used previously. She considered it a health precaution for herself and her young daughter. I’m not sure it was necessary, but if it put her mind at ease, and that was the important thing.
Recently, I interviewed for the position Executive Director of a small local nonprofit. If I had been hired, I would have replaced the founder of the organization, and hoped I would bring that nonprofit to the next level of success. The interview went pretty well in my opinion, but because it was close to the winter holiday season, I had to wait several weeks for the full Board to meet to learn the next step in the hiring process.
While I waited to hear from the Board, I spent a great deal of time researching the organization’s past, looking over the organization’s website, and investigating the organization’s social media presence. Other things I didn’t have easy access to, including the financial information. In case I was hired, I put together a 30/60/90 day plan of things I wanted to do. I wanted to run reports on the donors who have given the largest gifts and donors who have supported the organization the longest, then set up appointments to interview those supporters to gain a better sense of why they donated money and what their passions about the organization truly were. I planned to meet with those the organization serves and with those the organization partners with, in order to get their opinions about what the organization was doing right, and what it could improve. I looked into the chambers of commerce for the local communities to find out about business networking opportunities to increase business support for the organization’s programs. I researched foundations and trusts that support the mission of the nonprofit so I could start looking into potential funders for the organization.
One last thing I planned on doing was to get the Board to agree to an audit of the organization’s finances. I think this was my toilet seat moment.
My thoughts were, that due to its size and that it was founder run, this was an organization that could possibly have some issues, and for the sake of the organization and for my reputation, I believed it would be a good idea before the transition. After all, I didn’t know what the founder’s financial record keeping habits were like, nor if he was the bookkeeper or if someone else was. I have no reason to question his honesty, but one never knows about the one he/she is replacing. I just think it is prudent to know where things stand before you take over.
I recall a story about a different nonprofit in another region in the country where the new Executive Director required an audit before he hired on for the position. Fortunately for the new ED, the audit uncovered misappropriation by a former employee which could have been later blamed on the new hire, so it was worth the cost of the procedure. At this point in time, I honestly don’t recall if that new hire chose to stay and clean up the mess from the previous administration or not, but either way, the decision to choose an audit was a good one for the employee and the organization.
Whether installing a new toilet seat when one moves into a new abode is truly a necessary health precaution or not, it can actually do a lot of good for one’s piece of mind, and that is important. Whether requesting an audit before taking on the responsibilities as a new nonprofit leader is necessary, it’s hard to say, but it also gives one piece of mind and let’s one know the true standing of the organization’s finances, and that is important. Nine out of ten times, you will discover nothing terrible, but just that one time that something comes of the investigation is enough to make it a worthwhile effort.
Are there any other precautions you might think are important but often overlooked? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I and my other readers may benefit from your opinions.