By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Tens of thousands in donations to the Centre d’Agriculture Saint Barnabas have been diverted to other causes, according to Dan Tootle, who oversaw fundraising for Haiti.
Since 2014, the Episcopal Church has raised more than $250,000 for the school, which trains students for leadership roles in Haiti’s agriculture industry.
More than $21,000 went to two former directors, who used the money for personal expenses and for another school they oversaw, according to an analysis conducted by the current CASB director and the school accountant. Another $9,700 supported unexplained and unauthorized payments, Tootle said.
A report to the church’s finance office came from the CASB Support Group, which Tootle cofounded to raise funds directly for the school. It specifically cited mismanagement of funds at CASB, as well as the school’s dire financial situation, including unpaid staff and taxes, Tootle said. It called on the Episcopal Church to tell donors what happened to their money, among other remedial measures.
“All of this was written up in an extensive report that was sent to [church CFO] Kurt Barnes in May of this year,” Tootle said.
But donors who supported CASB have not been warned that their dollars supported other purposes, and the school still awaits its missing money. It has been trimming costs by slashing enrollment from a peak of 85 to 13 today.
“The school has no money,” Tootle said. Both bank accounts assigned to the school are empty.
Barnes declined to be interviewed, but said through Nancy Davidge, interim public affairs officer, that he was not aware of the report from the CASB Support Group. The church has not written to donors, or taken steps to restore CASB funding, because it has not been alerted to the problem, she added.
Barnes “seemed genuinely perplexed when this whole thing came up,” Davidge said. She said he is not aware of a report detailing financial mismanagement at CASB.
She added that oversight responsibilities rest with individual dioceses, not the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which administers national church programs.
“There isn’t direct oversight or control by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society over the business matters of an individual diocese,” Davidge said. “When it’s in another country, you have the civic and governmental channels there as well. So it’s more complicated.”
Twice since 2016, the Episcopal Church has paused fundraising for Haiti projects, citing insufficient financial controls in Haiti. The current fundraising moratorium led to abolishing Tootle’s position as the fundraiser for Haiti.
If the finance office has known about the discrepancies for the past four months, as Tootle alleges, then it should implement several best-practice steps to make amends and establish new safeguards, according to experts in nonprofit governance.
First, the church should enlist a well-known accounting firm to conduct an audit to verify claims and determine if additional problems need addressing, said Kathy Keeley, executive vice president of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. If misuse is confirmed, the church should promptly notify donors.
“Credibility is important,” Keeley said. “There are a lot of very poor people in Haiti that need help. The need it now. So the quicker the church can fix this, the quicker they can get back to fundraising and getting money to where it’s needed in Haiti.”
In Keeley’s view, the church bears responsibility as the fundraiser for assuring that the school receives all monies raised on its behalf. One way to do this, she said, is to file an insurance claim on a policy that covers embezzlement.
The CFO has not taken any such actions, Davidge said, because allegations of mismanagement of CASB funds were not brought to Barnes’s attention.
The CASB directorship did not come with a salary in recent years, Tootle said, because it was counted among other job responsibilities of clergy paid by the Diocese of Haiti. The compensation arrangement for the director changed last year. The current director is paid via funds newly raised for that purpose.
When past directors took school funds as unauthorized salaries, their actions came at the expense of a school that is now in financial trouble, Tootle said.
As CASB struggles to stay open, the church needs to reassure donors that the financial history is being addressed openly and will lead to new safeguards, said Liz Shear, a consultant to nonprofits and retired professor of nonprofit governance at the University of San Diego.
“You have to have a trusting relationship with your donors,” Shear said. “You need to act quickly, and you can do it in a way that doesn’t create a hornet’s nest of ‘Ick!’ You can just say, ‘This is what the church is doing.’”
Tootle said members of Executive Council, the House of Bishops, and the presiding bishop’s staff have long suspected that funds raised for Haiti were being mismanaged by the diocese.
Not all are convinced the DFMS needs to act. If an Episcopal school director in Haiti has been pocketing donated funds, Davidge said, that is not a problem for the DFMS to sort out.
“That really is a diocesan and a country of Haiti matter,” Davidge said.