LSCC funding almost quadruples within a month

By C.J. Barbre

It was a cry for help from Lindsay-Strathmore Coordinating Council volunteer Teresa Serna that set the Gazette on what is to date an eight-part series on trying to keep Lindsay's only food bank afloat.

October gifts to the LSCC totaled $1,780.07 including donations from three churches and $1,000 grant from Bank of the Sierra. In November the Coordinating Council took in a whopping $6,399!

Believing that this was an undeniable show of community support, we called United Way in Tulare and asked what else needed to happen.

United Way Executive Director Ernie Hernandez was kind enough to more clearly explain the situation. In a phone interview on Wednesday, Dec. 1, he said for LSCC to become reaffiliated with United Way, there are certain requirements they would have to have in place, that in fact United Way had backed them longer than they should have, in that the Coordinating Council was not meeting some of these criteria. He said it could happen in a couple of months or could take as long as a year. "It depends on at what point they submit their application. Then there would be a site visit from our volunteers, and depending on whether they were able to meet all the criteria that's required, we could move forward. But they would have to meet all the criteria. I know for a fact that they missed the application for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program and I don't know if anyone applied again this year for that funding." He explained that he was referring to the funding year which runs from November to October. The cycle started again in November, with the funding cycle beginning in the first quarter of the new year.

Hernandez covered some of the criteria that is required, starting with a minimum seven-member board of directors. Presently the LSCC board only has four members including the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.

The previous day, LSCC Board President Cindy Rios said the board has been sending out letters and communicating with various pastors about recruiting more board members. "We have made the plea for board members and people are not stepping up," she said.

Hernandez said the board of directors must meet at least quarterly and members may not be financially compensated. They may be reimbursed for expenses related to the nonprofit such as attending a conference.

The nonprofit needs to carry directors' and officers' insurance and general liability insurance that needs to cover a bond for protection of the organization. He said it is generally referred to as a "dishonesty bond. It's just really for the protection of organization and the liability insurance protects the board members."

He said another important criteria is that they must have an annual budget that is approved in advance by the board of directors. "Then, within that budget they must be able to report on a regular basis to the board the current balance sheet, statement of revenues and expenses that includes budget to actual." Hernandez said an annual audit is required of the books "including a management letter." If any weaknesses are found in the accounting system, the management letter would point that out.

"If, for instance, you don't have a separation of duties, which means that the same person is basically opening the mail, making financial deposits and writing checks, that would be pointed out." He said the management letter would be directed to the staff person at the organization. Hernandez said in the following year's audit, any previously noted weaknesses should have been addressed. "If it needs to be improved, they must show they have been approved." He said it didn't have to be paid staff, that volunteers could be used to separate duties. "It's up to smaller organizations to decide how to put these internal controls in control, to find ways to manage so the burden doesn't sit entirely on one person."

Hernandez said another important criteria is to have a written personnel policy if the nonprofit has any paid employees. "If an organization doesn't have an employee handbook, then what guides that organization regarding employees? A good percentage of lawsuits of nonprofits are around employee issues."

It is important for the organization to be current on payroll taxes. If there is a finance committee, are they monitoring if payroll taxes are up to date?

"We like to see organizations each year provide an annual report, especially to their donors." He said it doesn't have to be an expensive glossy document, simply reports of the activities of the organization including a financial statement "so that people can make the connection between the revenues and the expenses and how they achieve the services" for which the non-profit was formed.

Finally, Hernandez said the organization needs to be thinking where it needs to be in three to five years, "so they're not just operating hand-to-mouth. We understand how difficult it is, but if you have a plan, you're working toward something. It's a road map as basically we describe it."

Hernandez was clear that United Way feels a need to be supporting an organization in Lindsay's part of the county, to do the type of work the Coordinating Council is providing to the community.

He said United Way recently provided an $8,000 one-time grant through the Healthy Start Program, "because we thought that it was important for services to continue to families that have needs in this area." Healthy Start gets referrals through the school sites.

Earlier Cindy Rios said that she had met with Lindsay City Manager Scot Townsend and Healthy Start Director Janie Elson several weeks ago, because, "There had been rumors that Healthy Start wanted to take over what we were doing. Janie made it totally clear, in no uncertain terms, that the purpose for Healthy Start is to deal with children, to do everything to strengthen and enhance their education."

Rios said she asked at that time what the city could do to help LSCC with United Way. Last Wednesday, Dec. 1, Townsend agreed that Healthy Start is concerned with school children and then their extended families. "If Johnny has good teeth, he will do better in school," he said was their approach and they didn't want to muddy the waters or confuse the message. Townsend said he agreed to facilitate a meeting with United Way, but had not yet had an opportunity to set one up. He said he planned to do it later that day.

About the Coordinating Council, Townsend said, "I think they're in jeopardy of folding and have to take a look at their role in Lindsay - if it's structured right. They need to go to the community. I got involved because I think there is an ongoing role for them. But it's time to take a fresh look."

That very morning Ernie Hernandez had said, "I would love to come there and share this information with anybody in the community that is interested. The other part is that we're asking folks from the county to donate money to support these organizations. Part of our responsibility is to be sure the money is being used in an appropriate manner because it guides us and helps us to help organizations.

"If we don't get our nonprofit sector up to speed as growth continues, we'll always be trying to catch up. It drives who do we need on the board and what kind of money do we need to meet the needs of the community. What are we doing as an organization to keep up with that growth?"

Hernandez promised that United Way would provide technical assistance, on-the-job training and support.

"We absolutely do not want to close the door on the community, but we've got to find a way to support an organization that can provide services effectively."

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