CanTeen Tells Its Recovery Story
12 June 2001 at 1:06 pm
It’s been a tough twelve months for the young people’s cancer charity CanTeen. But a recent court room judgement has finally closed the door on a charity nightmare – fraud! CanTeen can now tell its cautionary tale.
In recent weeks the Melbourne media has been abuzz with the courtroom details of a marketing manager found guilty of stealing nearly $400,000 from the cancer charity to help fund his gambling habit.
According to those reports, Geoffrey Donald Feiam, aged 43, used his former position as a contracted fundraiser for CanTeen – a support group for young people living with cancer – to steal donations almost every day for six months.
The County Court heard that Feiam worked as a telemarketer, raising funds for the organisation via the phone, but instead of directing the credit card donations to CanTeen he put them into his own bank account.
The court was told that the money was then spent on poker machines.
The prosecutor, Boris Kayser told the court that the action of Feiam was not only a breach of trust but also a breach of trust in relation to a charity.
Feiam pleaded guilty to six charges of theft and was sentenced to 38 months jail with a non-parole period of 2 years.
It’s a Not for Profit’s nightmare and one which CanTeen’s Sydney-based CEO Christine Rowell says has made the organisation revisit its operations in fine detail.
Stepping back to last year when a routine check found the anomaly, Rowell says initially there was a lot of walking in circles saying “oh my God”. CanTeen knew the man involved and it hurt!
Auditors were called in to look at the organisation and its operations but not in the usual way of ‘by the book’ but by looking at CanTeen in the way ‘crooks’ would if they wanted to defraud it, and to find its vulnerabilities.
Rowell says it was certainly a learning experience and while the check didn’t find any grave concerns, they came up with some good ideas for small security adjustments that would prevent electronic fraud in the future.
Through an advisory group available to the Board made up of solicitors, auditors, banks and police, Rowell says they discovered that electronic fraud is a daily occurrence across all types of business, not just charities, and many Not for Profits don’t take a public position on it because of a fear of donor backlash.
She says the telemarketing fraud was an enormous crisis for CanTeen and three years earlier it would have brought the charity to its knees.
Rowell says the Board made the decision to go public on this very sensitive event and the staff rallied very quickly in a military style operation to set up links with major stakeholders, particularly the young people that CanTeen helps, before the media interest took hold.
A public statement was made last July and since then Rowell says CanTeen has shared its learned information and experience with many charities and individuals.
She says like all businesses dealing in financial transfers, including charities, there is a need to be on top of these issues, pro active, aware and participating in industry dialogue. In fact to treat the charity like a business!
The media revisited the story at least four times during the year because of various court appearances which rekindled the story and often sparked the interest of donors who were not aware of the fraud earlier.
Christine Rowell says twelve months later CanTeen is recovering with the advice and assistance of advisers who have helped the organisation get over the shock.
Rowell says clearly the message is to be diligent and thorough at all times.
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