During my sophomore year of college, I found myself leading the pro-life student organization on my campus. I had several other officers who could help me with the day-to-day organization. To be honest, I felt on top of the world. I’m a fairly type A person and I had everything planned out in planners, spreadsheets and a shared Google Drive between all of the officers. I spent the first few weeks of the position getting everything transferred from the previous president’s name to my name–including the club’s bank account. The student organizations on campus bank with a local credit union, which has a branch in our student union building. I transferred the account over to my name. Then, they gave me a debit card to use for club affairs. I was diligent with this card, making sure to use only small amounts at a time, and countering my withdrawals with deposits from fundraisers. I spent a lot of my personal money on the organization as well, so as not to upset the already fairly small checking account we had access to. 

When I took over as president, we had almost $1,500 in the account, that our previous president had built up through fundraisers. But during the summer between my sophomore and junior year and halfway through my term as president, I got a phone call from my treasurer. He asked me when the last time I had checked the bank account balance was. 

The credit union had never asked me to set up a password for the online account. Then, I went into the credit union every few weeks to collect bank statements, so I felt pretty confident about our finances without checking the online account daily. 

My treasurer told me we had around -$250 in our account. We were negative. In less than four months over $1,700 had been drained. I racked my brain, looking for answers. Then, I went back through files and files of bank statements that only added up to around $300. I couldn’t understand how this had happened–how under my leadership we ended up in debt. With no money in the account we wouldn’t have money to pay for tabling materials like poster board, or food for meetings, or for diapers and maternity clothes that could help us support pregnant women. 

I collected the bank statement from the summer months, which I had previously assumed would be blank. I was sadly mistaken. There were hundreds of $5-$30 charges from Amazon, Target, Walmart and other companies. 

I got on the phone with the credit union the very next morning and the phone call went something like this: 

“Oh yeah we saw you went into the negative but we couldn’t figure out which debit card these charges were coming from”

“Which debit card? I thought I had the only card?”

“Oh no, all of the former president’s have cards too. And some of the former treasurers. There are 17 cards listed under your account.”

“17?! So there are 17 different ways that our debit card information could have been stolen?”

“Yeah…I guess so. I’ll set up a new account for you that’s only under your name so that this doesn’t happen again.” 

“Okay yeah, that will help. But is there a way to reverse the charges from before?”

“There’s not. Once they’ve gone through there’s nothing we can do for fraudulent charges. Sorry! Come by when you get back to campus and we’ll set up a brand new account for you.”

So, that was it. I hadn’t asked enough questions when setting up my card. I had no idea so many people had access to the account. In fact, I didn’t even know some of the people who had access, as they had been president three or four years before I was even in college. Any number of these people could have been using the card, or carelessly left the card somewhere, or thrown it away in a place that other people could have found and used the information. 

I did what I could to salvage our finances for the fall semester. I started a GoFundMe and explained what had happened, I sent out mailers to some of the pro-life folks in our college town. They responded with $10 bills and checks. Then, we hosted fundraisers through restaurants in town. We built the account back up slowly. I kicked my planning, leadership and organization skills into overdrive trying to fix the mess I’d inadvertently made, but the damage was done. It took two full semesters, one under my leadership, and one under my successor’s, to build our account back up to the funds we had previously had. Through this, I also felt that my officers and members lost trust in me. They felt less confident leaving tasks in my capable hands, because of an error that really came down to details the credit union had left out, and I had never bothered to ask.

If you find yourself in a leadership position, whether it’s over an organization of 10 people or 100, ask questions. Learn the details of everything you get yourself into. Club finances are real people’s money. Ask your bank or credit union a thousand questions if you need to, to feel confident in your finances, and know that something like this won’t happen to you. There are no stupid questions when it comes to protecting your organization from fraud.

Georgia G
CABINET
“Georgia Gallagher is a graduating senior at The University of Alabama, where she is double majoring in Journalism and Political Science. When she’s not studying, she can be found running political organizations on campus, writing, and advocating for pro-life policies. She often says that her planner is second only to her Bible and she’s never caught without a cup of coffee in her hand.”