Monday, June 25, 2012


These weren't always as obvious to me as they are now. Maybe they can help an emerging NPO leader leap forward.

In 2007, a few friends raised $35,000 to purchase 700 bicycles for
village outreach workers in India.  A year later, we pedaled 2000 miles
through India to raise funds to rebuild a 50-year-old Indian hospital.
Staying mission-focused and thinking outside the box is vital to
creative fundraising in and among nonprofit efforts.   
Before being asked to teach some graduate courses on nonprofit leadership and management at the School for Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), I served as executive director of several local nonprofit organizations.  Leading and learning at Shepherd Community, the John H. Boner Community Center, and Horizon House taught me a few basic things I haven't quite found replicated in the good textbooks and resources I use in working with emerging nonprofit and public sector leaders.

Through many attempts, failures, successes, setbacks and breakthroughs, my front-line, hands-on experiences in the crucible of leadership garnered some enduring reflections about managing finances in a nonprofit context.

Below are twelve simple practices I can now readily articulate. If you take (or audit!) my course, you'll get all the juice that goes with this pulp.  I list them here for the sake of pointing out some practical things that didn't always readily occur to me.

1. Get a handle on your organization’s financial picture and processes as one of your first actions as a manager/leader.
      - This is a top-five thing to do in the first few days.
      - Leave no stone unturned.  Very important.  What you don't know can hurt you, the organization, and your excellent cause.

2. As you begin, meet separately with your (1) financial staff, (2) finance committee of the board of directors, and (3) an outside, objective NPO financial consultant.
     - Note the distinctions in understanding, priorities, expectations, etc.

3. Ask as many questions--and as boldly and naively--as it takes to fully understand and manage finances with confidence.

     - Seek to understand, clarify, and discern...then prioritize, manage, and lead.
     - The better you understand, the more effectively you will lead with transparency and competence.

4. Learn to read, understand, interpret and utilize basic financial reporting documents.

     - Learn to note key variables and factors that point to needed and timely decisions.

5. If you are afraid of finances, face down your fears and move from a reactive to a proactive perspective and practices.

     - The sooner, the better.
     - You don't have to be a finance expert, but you need to become competent and confident regarding finances.

6. Don’t let bottom-line finances drive you or the mission and actions of the organization.

     - See point 12.

7. Develop a culture of stewardship of resources—financial, material, personnel, volunteers.

      - Stewardship is a far better framework and word image to guide understanding and decision-making in NPOs than most of what is conjured up as financial alchemy in other sectors.
      - Set the example. Good stewardship of administrative finances should be the hallmark for the rest of the organization.

8. Dashboard: identify and constantly monitor a select mix of financial factors, performance factors, organizational culture factors, etc.

     - Your dashboard should not just be money-related. See point 12, again.

9. Use a budget and budget planning to explore, confirm and reflect the mission, values, intended outcomes, aspirations, and accountability of the organization.

     - Plan with your mission statement and mutually-identified targets in one hand and a volunteer database and calculator in the other.

10. View funders as partners in your mission and, whenever possible, develop personal relationships with funding representatives.

     - And don't just do this with large grant makers or donors

11. When the auditors arrive, welcome them with open books and readiness to learn and position your organization or initiative for continuous improvement.

     - Don't miss this opportunity to see through the eyes of those who love making numbers match and can assist you to raise the credibility factor of your cause.

12. Money follows vision and leadership that is competent, accountable and creative.

     - Not just money, but resources of all kinds.
     - There is a bottom line that surpasses and fuels the financial bottom line.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff Haake6:06 PM

    This is relevant not only for an Executive Director, but a good board chairman should guide their board with these financial perspectives as well. Good information, John!


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