In my last post, I raised the idea that the behind-the-scenes processes can either propel or derail the vision of your organization. In the next few posts, I’d like to expand on that by addressing certain back-office functions and how each specifically supports your vision.
In the spotlight this week is the lonely accounting / finance department. I say lonely because no one really likes visiting these folks (sorry, but you know it’s true!). They hold the purse strings, ask lots of questions and sometimes tell you “no.” I used to work in a non-profit’s accounting office, so I know of which I speak! Your accounting personnel love your organization just as much as the front-line folks. They just show their commitment in different ways – here are a few examples:
- Budgeting: They’ll advocate for developing a budget for the upcoming year by department. This supports the vision by getting your team to plan ahead, prioritize expenditures, and helps them ensure that the money will be there when you need it for that big event or new program.
- Purchasing: They may push back on a purchase request because certain financial controls weren’t followed like getting two or more bids for a large expenditure or not obtaining the proper approvals. This may feel like they’re stifling progress. However, they see it as being a good steward of the money that’s been donated and want to help you stay within budget so you’ll have money to keep the vision moving forward.
- Reporting: Your CFO or accounting department manager may want to review financial reports with you such as a cash flow statement, budget vs. actuals, etc. These probably aren’t your favorite meetings, but you need to know where the money is going and if there are any concerns. You set the tone of the organization and if your CFO says you need to be extra careful with expenditures for a while, you need to back him/her up in front of the entire team. Don’t make him be the bad guy all the time – share the load.
To my friends in the accounting department: I’ve been there and know that it is very frustrating when your fellow staff members don’t plan ahead, ask for things last-minute, or forget to check the budget. You’re supporting the vision by being a gatekeeper to ensure that the finances are well managed and it’s a thankless job most of the time. However, you do need to work with the rest of the team to find ways to say yes when possible (and appropriate). Here are a few tips from my own experiences:
- Set expectations and offer training. If a staff member messes up a purchase request, provide a quick instruction session to help him get it right the next time. He can’t read your mind and probably doesn’t think like an accountant, so you’ll have to explain when (and how) to get quotes, how to know if a request is within budget, what details you need on the request, etc. You might be able to prevent issues in the first place by documenting these processes and providing that information to new employees.
- Don’t withhold financial information that people need to do their jobs. Not all financial information is confidential. Department managers should own their budget – not you. This means they create it, review it with senior management for approval, monitor the financial reports for their department, and are held accountable for staying within budget.
- Demonstrate excellent customer service. When you get a last minute request, do whatever you can to help (especially if the person making the request rarely does so). People make mistakes and emergencies really do happen that can’t be prevented. Offer your assistance with a positive attitude.
Money is one of the tools needed to accomplish your organization’s vision. Your accounting personnel want to support the vision by keeping you within budget, helping you find great deals, and preventing even the appearance of fraud (which protects your reputation with the community and with donors). They don’t want to be the “no” people – they’re just trying to do their job with excellence. Let them know you appreciate what they do, even when it’s a bit frustrating. They want to support your vision and help you succeed. Return the favor by making sure they have your support and the tools they need to be successful. The accounting department is more than just a necessary back-office function. It’s a vital tool to the health of your organization and the advancement of your vision.
Accounting teams – Is there anything you’d like to add to this list? How do you support the vision of your organization from the accounting office?