3 Ways Swim Club Parent Boards Can Avoid Embezzlement

by SwimSwam Contributors 4

October 31st, 2016 Club, Opinion

by Elizabeth Wickham

When I read about the $266K alleged embezzlement at a nearby swim team, I was shocked. How was that possible? After reflecting on my years as a board member, I realized that yes—it could happen.

I served on the board of a parent-governed club, so my personal experience has to do with parent volunteers—not club-owned or institutional-run teams. On our board, one courageous person would agree to be treasurer—managing the bank accounts, handling billing, writing checks and making sure the taxes were done. Each board meeting, the treasurer would pass out a financial report and we’d address it before going onto other business. Some people would pore over it line by line, but I didn’t take that much time with it, nor really understand how to read a profit and loss statement. I have to believe there are other people like me serving on parent boards across the country.

We relied on the honesty and integrity of our treasurer, which worked out. Seriously, we were fortunate to have volunteers who were trustworthy and believed in the long-term growth and viability of our team.

With parents coming and going and boards turning over, I can see that a swim team could be vulnerable to a less than savory person looking for personal gain.

Here are three thoughts about serving on a board and ensuring your team stays afloat:


Take it seriously.

This is not little league or being a room mom. Swim teams of all sizes have liabilities and commitments including contracts with pools, coaches salaries, and travel and equipment expenses. When you become a board member, make sure to get educated. Resources on USA Swimming include club leadership training plus consultants who can help with club management. There are club documents at USA Swimming from teams that are great examples. Make sure you go to meetings. There’s nothing worse than having to readdress issues and be unable to make decisions due to lack of attendance.


Put aside personal agendas.

Take your parent hat off. Your personal agenda is secondary to the health and welfare of the team. Sometimes you may have to make decisions that aren’t great for you or your kids, but are better for the team as a whole. Be wary of people who are looking out only for themselves, their families, or have a private agenda—they don’t belong on the board. When voting for people on the board, it’s a judgment call. Having people with integrity is vital.


Make sure you have checks and balances.

It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but from time to time, it’s important to have your books looked over by an outside expert. Another idea is to have your treasurer bring bank statements to board meetings, so you can compare the monthly reports to the actual bank documents. Or, if your team can afford it, hire an outside person to be treasurer. You may want to look into errors & omissions insurance for your board, also. Serving on a board is an honor, but it could be a liability, too.

What are your thoughts on how to avoid fraud and theft on a swim team?

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.


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6 years ago

item 3 should be segregation of duties. I would have an outside bookkeeper do the monthly bank rec and have the bank statements mailed directly to a board member. require a monthly revenue report be prepared and presented to the board. All it needs is the number of swimmers multiplied out by the monthly dues and compare it to the bank deposit total and the budget. And then there is the snack bar cash….where did it all go?

Erik Collins
6 years ago

Five: leave nothing to chance- skip the whole “Board” thing altogether, it’s called a coach-owned program.

Reply to  Erik Collins
6 years ago

Some of the most poorly managed programs I’ve seen are coach-owned programs. Not all, but some. Also, how does this prevent embezzlement?

6 years ago

Four: Enforce strict separation of team and personal finances. I was on the board of a team in which a board member had fees for a team event (that the person also ran) go into their personal account. Regardless of whether or not there was malfeasance, the presumption certainly existed. This can poison the trust between board members as well as the trust that the membership has for the board as a whole.