Public Relations

How will this nonprofit remake its reputation?

non profit crisis pr

Bonita Springs Assistance Office is a local charity providing emergency financial aid and a food pantry for residents facing a crisis. 39-year old Marjorie Kasell-Johnson (MJ) was the executive director and president of BSAO for about a year before she was recently fired, suspected of misappropriating funds.Prior to being hired by the charity, MJ helped with fundraising events and other volunteer services. So members of the organization are feeling a bit shell-shocked and betrayed.

The situation was discovered quickly and handled without delay. One of the board members noticed some suspicious activity on the charity’s checking account and mentioned it to the Chairman of the Board, Scott Duval.

From what they know so far, MJ was writing checks to pay for personal expenses including her mortgage, credit card payments, and the like. It’s not unusual that rent, utilities, or mortgage payments would be made from the account on behalf of their clients. That’s what they are there for. So it did require verification of who benefited from payments before taking action.

Once they had sufficient evidence, they acted swiftly. MJ has already repaid some of the estimated $20,000-30,000 she took. But forensic auditors are piecing everything together now to determine the full extent of the problem. Added to the funds being stolen, MJ neglected to pay the premium on theft insurance when it came due during the summer. BSAO also reported the problem to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office as soon as Ms. Kasell-Johnson was fired.

Duval reported “Clients weren’t affected at all.” BSAO operates separately from the city as a non-profit funded by donations and grants. They’ve functioned as the primary source of social services in the community since 1979. Helping people when they have temporary financial problems, making sure they continue enjoying a roof over their heads, utilities, food, health, and clothing as needed.

All services continue, and there is still plenty in the account to help the people of the community when they need assistance. Most of the misappropriated funds appear to have happened within the last 60 days of Kasell-Johnson’s tenure.

BSAO caught the problem quickly, responded appropriately, announced it publicly right away, and continue to do the good work they aim to do. A lot of bigger operations could take a lesson on how they handled what could have been a PR crisis with speed and transparency.

Juda Engelmayer is a Senior Vice President at New York City based Public Relations firm, 5W PR.