By RUSS SEAGLE
2015 was an exciting year for Sequoyah Fund. It was also a year full of change.
Since Sequoyah Fund was incorporated in 1998, we have operated largely as a nonprofit that also did some commercial lending. Given the legal, regulatory, audit, and funding environment today, we now operate more as a commercial lender that is also a nonprofit. So, what does that mean, exactly?
In 2015, Sequoyah Fund created the position of controller to better reflect our growth as a commercial lender and to better address the stringent audits we are subject to. Michael Bruce was hired in June to fill this role. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who specializes in both Financial and Government accounting standards, Michael is uniquely qualified to handle the complexities of our loans, accounts, and audits. Michael has been instrumental in organizing our accounts and information systems to prepare us for future growth. He also makes sure our audits are clean and that we are compliant with all regulations and restrictions placed upon us by regulatory agencies and funding sources.
To our Board of Directors, we also added new members who bring specific skills that will further position us for growth. Yona Wade is a new board member who brings to Sequoyah Fund his connections to the arts and education communities. Yona also brings years of experience as a member of other community and nonprofit boards and has been instrumental in implementing board best practices. Emily Breedlove brings her connections to state and regional entrepreneurship advocates, organizations, and funders.
Our board is dedicated to enhancing and improving the accountability of the staff and the governance practices of Sequoyah Fend. The common goal of this group is to uphold high standards of governance that will position Sequoyah Fund for more funding to enable us to better fulfill our mission.
In 2015, we also saw the implementation of new internal control systems to better monitor our complex accounts and improve financial reporting. By working with our auditors and our legal counsel, we implemented rigid standards of internal accountability in every aspect of our operation – from loan servicing to how we open and process incoming mail. More robust checks and balances mean fewer errors, less likelihood of fraud, better quality loan documentation, and consistently sound audit results.
While no organization is immune to internal fraud, the steps Sequoyah Fund has taken will serve to minimize the likelihood of occurrence and lead to swift detection and prosecution should any fraudulent activity occur. These systems will ultimately ensure more resources are available to work in the community.
2015 marked a turning point for Sequoyah Fund in which we overcame challenges of the past and prepared the organization to face a faster-paced, ever-changing landscape. We look forward to continuing to serve the businesses, people, and other organizations of Cherokee and the surrounding communities for years to come. Thanks to the steps we took in 2015, we can say with confidence that our future is brighter and more secure than ever…
In 2016, Sequoyah Fund is pursuing more federal and foundational funding to:
(1) Increase our lending capacity,
(2) Develop and offer more educational programming to strengthen our entrepreneurial community, and
(3) Complete the full rollout of the Authentically Cherokee brand.
Sequoyah Fund typically lends more than a million dollars each year. With an average loan size of around $34,000, the volume and diversity of entrepreneurs we empower requires a large pool of lending capital. Unlike traditional banks, when lending volume increases sharply, we are not able to borrow from other banks at near-zero interest rates. Instead, we must – and we will – diligently pursue all available grant sources offering capital for lending purposes. Our mission is to be an accessible community partner standing ready to lend when our entrepreneurs are ready to borrow.
We will be offering many new opportunities for small business owners to strengthen their businesses with training courses, seminars, and online learning avenues.
Authentically Cherokee, a program designed to promote success within the Cherokee artist community, is positioned for growth. Our artists will be able to take full advantage of an exciting new website that will be unveiled in the summer. A small loan program for artists will provide a path for artists to travel to shows, festivals, and powwows throughout Indian Country to demonstrate their skills and represent their businesses.
We also look forward to another year of the Kituwah Savings Program. The children participating in this program are excited about depositing money into their savings accounts. They’re learning the benefits of savings, the magic of compound interest and the expectation that they can make money work for them, instead of just working for money. This program continues to foster a generation of savers who will, no doubt, become a generation of smart, savvy investors.
Without question, 2016 will be a busy year for Sequoyah Fund. But we join in the excitement of the growth of our community and the incredible benefits to come.
Sequoyah Fund Lending:
Since Inception: 367 loans: $14,303,000.00
2015 Lending: 31 loans: $1,124,151.00
Business loans: $1,070,691.00
Home Improvement Loans: $53,460.00
Types of Loans:
Start-Up: 5 loans: $180,300.00
Small Business: 18 loans: $490,490.91
Home Improvement: 5 loans: $53,460.00
Non Profit: 1 loan: $75,000.00
Loan Servicing: 2 loans $325,000.00
Location of Sequoyah Fund Lending:
On Qualla Boundary: 23 loans- $660,950.91
Off Qualla Boundary: 6 loans- $138,300.00
Seagle is the executive director of the Sequoyah Fund.