Nonprofit CEOs and Board Directors: How Expert Is Your CFO?
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
When hiring a chief financial officer (CFO), nonprofit organizations often find themselves with a major challenge, since many financial and accounting functions and compliances are identical with those of for-profit organizations. To compete, the nonprofits may need to offer higher salaries than typical for nonprofit organizations. Some may trim the level of expertise required to fill the position. They hire a person with a bookkeeping background when the organization needs somebody with financial analysis skills. This is a dangerous move, especially when the organization is growing. It is difficult to terminate a financial person who is satisfactory for a startup, but isn’t able to navigate the challenges of rapid growth. Also it is a continuing challenge for the Board and CEO, to make certain that the person in the position now has the requisite skills. A mistake by a person who is not current with financial changes and compliances can make a major error that will harm the organization’s reputation, leading to a board restructuring and/or firing the CEO.
Both the nonprofit CEO and the board need to assess the CFO’s expertise annually by:
*Asking knowledgeable board members if they are receiving financial data and analysis in a format helpful for decision-making.
*Having an executive session with the external auditors yearly to obtain the firm’s assessment of the expertise of all financial personnel with whom they had have contact.
*Keeping track of reports that are submitted late. Something might be radically wrong. (I know of one case where the Board and CEO were only receiving a subsidiary report intermittently. The problem was the data reported involved old accounts that should have been written off months ago. The organization had to hire forensic accountants to determine what needed to be done to resolve the situation. The board terminated the CFO and then the CEO.)
*Making certain all financial personnel take two weeks vacation each year, so that a substitute needs to handle the duties.
*Having the CEO review the CFO’s expertise annually with knowledgeable board members, external accountants or others. Acknowledging the growth point when the nonprofit needs a CFO with analytical abilities as opposed to bookkeeping ones.
*Reviewing the causes for a high turnover rate among financial personnel.
*Providing local financial support for the CFO and others to stay current with accounting and compliance regulations.
For a current case of a board that evidently failed to adhere to such guidelines see: