Al Burpee, Director of Financial Services at Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC), recently shared insights about the organization’s efforts to tackle fraud. A global ministry founded by Anabaptist churches in the U.S. and Canada, MCC operates in 45 countries, collaborating with organizations on relief, development, and peace-building projects. In 2022, MCC enrolled in Humentum’s Fighting Fraud in NGOs training to strengthen its ability to prevent and detect fraud. Join us as we explore MCC’s challenges, objectives, and reflections one year later.
Recognizing the need for action
Fraud is a potential risk that many nongovernmental organizations must address. Recognizing the risk, MCC developed an anti-fraud and corruption policy instituted across the organization in 2019 to reinforce the financial integrity of its work.
However, by doing so, MCC discovered a new problem. Reports of fraud cases increased as awareness of the policy grew. MCC’s board of directors called for more action.
Realizing that tailored and interactive training was a critical next step, Burpee and his colleagues researched various options and found Humentum’s in-house virtual training. As an existing Humentum member, MCC noted it as one of the few places for finance professionals in the NGO sector to network with colleagues.
Goals and objectives
MCC set out to enhance staff’s understanding of fraud detection and prevention to help them develop more effective controls. The practical scenarios presented during the training were highly valuable in achieving this objective. For example, some staff were unsure about their responsibility to report fraud and how to address it. The training helped clarify staff roles and gave guidance on what to do if they uncover fraud. The interactive sessions also facilitated mutual learning among the country program teams.
Another benefit was using training developed by an external provider. Leaders of each country program, known as MCC representatives, handle a wide variety of responsibilities. Training feedback indicated that some had been uncertain about the need to report all fraud, even small incidents, to fulfill the requirements of MCC U.S.’s annual audits and related procedures. By using Humentum, MCC made sure staff could access training aligned with proven best practices and sector standards.
The feedback received from staff showed their appreciation for the guidance provided. It also underscored their recognition of MCC’s approach to addressing their work challenges, both with colleagues and partners. These were areas that previously lacked structure. In this sense, the framework provided during the training has been embraced to tackle these issues in the future.
Staff also valued the participatory nature of the training. Unlike a standard call and presentation format where participants log in to listen, the interactive approach allowed them to work at their own pace while staying connected to their colleagues. This format encouraged knowledge exchange, and staff appreciated the opportunity to learn from each other and discover that other colleagues were facing similar challenges.
Overall, the training significantly enhanced MCC’s understanding of how to prevent and respond to fraud. Fortunately, its Board was already aware of the potential rise in logged cases as awareness grew, so they were prepared when more reports came in after the training. While it might sound like a negative outcome, it’s a positive one. Unreported fraud is much more costly in the long run.
Strengthening internal controls
As a result of the training, MCC addressed the need for stronger internal controls. One significant measure was establishing an internal audit and compliance department within the finance department. Previously, these responsibilities were managed by individuals on an ad-hoc basis. However, it was clear that a dedicated person was required to focus on this area.
Additionally, there is a continuous effort to improve tools and processes to determine optimal funding levels for MCC’s partners. One challenge program staff faced was assessing suitable funding for partner organizations. Without finance training, their judgment relied heavily on the partner’s perceived ability to implement the program. However, it became clear that another crucial factor was the partner’s capacity to manage and account for the allocated funds effectively. As a result, MCC leveraged Humentum’s Financial Health Check Assessment Tool, adapting it to meet their requirements.
Since its introduction last year, MCC has integrated this tool into various country programs. Its main objective is to establish clear and measurable benchmarks for MCC’s partners, specifically focusing on bolstering their financial controls and internal processes. Through this, MCC aims to enhance resource allocation accuracy, strengthen partner capabilities, and increase its opportunities to secure greater funding. Ultimately, MCC wants to have a more secure and transparent system.
Where to from here?
To date, selected staff from every country program have completed Humentum’s Fighting Fraud in NGOs course. With plans for future training cohorts and introducing a Speak Up service—a reporting mechanism for addressing abuses of power—MCC continues to prioritize the fight against fraud. Furthermore, MCC is piloting Humentum Learning Services (HLS) and exploring how the fraud training can align with the other courses offered. As Burpee, emphasizes, “Once [Humentum] gets to know your organization better, they offer the products they feel best fit what you’re trying to accomplish. Start with becoming a Humentum member and then contact your account manager—they will put you in touch with the right people.”
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