Not-For-Profit?  Not-A-Problem!

 Mark Koscinski CPA D.Litt. and Susan Hornak MBA

After a successful and personally satisfying career as a CPA what next? Many successful accounting professionals ask this question.  Eventually the drive to “give back” to your community becomes more important. An insistent inner voice pulls you towards serving others. After decades of accumulated experiential knowledge the only seemingly logical choice is to help a local not- for-profit (NFP) organization.

I found myself as Chairman of the Board for a Center for Independent Living or CIL for short. These centers are funded by Federal, state and corporate grants along with private donations. They help people with all types of disabilities live independently in the community. CIL’s work to identify resources, act as an advocate and promote understanding of issues people with disabilities face in their communities.

As Chairman I deal with a wide array of issues, most of them not financial in nature. Involvement with a NFP is one way to give back using your wealth of knowledge and learn new skills. Sound management principles are essential to the success and viability of every NFP.  While NFP’s are not organized to make a profit it is still a business requiring active management and a vision. Many small NFP organizations lack the ability or the talent to manage the operations in a way to maximize its potential.

CPA training and education is often invaluable to an NFP in need of managerial help. Needless to say money is usually tight with little to spare. Very strict guidelines exist and reporting must be meticulous to stay in good standing with funders. This is where my expertise came in.

The following is a list of ten lessons learned along the way. We faced many challenges but grew as an organization increasing services to those in need, increased our financial solvency and created a cohesive well-run organization. Here’s how!

  1. Retain the right Executive Director (ED). Hire someone with the right skillset or with the ability to learn quickly. Offer them competitive salary with an attractive benefits package. If the funding is not available, it is part of the Board’s job to raise it.
  2. Set goals and objectives for ED and the organization. Do not leave success to chance. Clearly define expectations in all areas. This is your “contract” with your ED.  To ensure these goals are met offer an incentive plan.
  3. Find and hire the right talent. Hiring and training middle management in any organization is always a challenge but even more so in an NFP. Even in a weak economy good employees are still a valued commodity. Make sure they are paid appropriately. Perform market surveys to ensure staff are compensated fairly.
  4. Invest in the staff. Grow their knowledge base and invest in their future. Provide tuition reimbursement for related curriculum and on-site training programs as well as cross training. Perform annual reviews.  Nothing says “I don’t care about you” like not providing feedback to an employee.
  5. Keep your eye on the revenue ball. Be constantly aware of opportunities to expand your revenue base. Without a growing revenue stream it is almost impossible to function effectively. Actively fundraise. “Block and tackle” by staying on top of payments from funders and donors. Have a website that not only is of assistance to the client base but also adds to fundraising opportunities. Secure an available line of credit to meet expenses in-case of an emergency.
  6. Implement a strong system of internal controls. This is especially important if you are receiving state and federal funding. .Remember government funding is NOT a no-strings-attached relationship. Strong controls prevent defalcation and insures proper stewardship of funds
  7. Take the job of director seriously as if lives depend on you. In our situation, they do. Every time we fail at our job someone’s quality of life suffers.  Do not take on such a big responsibility just to burnish your resume. Consider this a real commitment with real demands.
  8. Board management requires consistent and ongoing effort. Actively recruit new board talent throughout the entire year. Anticipate changes before they ever occur. Volunteer work takes time and board members’ situations change. They may not be able to continue their commitment for an extended period of time.  Create functioning committees to divide and conquer. Properly document and record all meetings as a matter of board protection and compliance. Board members should always add to the productivity of the organization.
  9. Vigilant and consistent education is the key to growth as a Board Chairman. Learn about your organization and others like it. Learn what other boards are doing and learn from best practices. Study guidelines, charters and mandates to fully understand the organization.
  10. Prepare a strategic plan. This will be the roadmap for your ED. Do not put the strategic plan on the shelf after it is prepared.  Include a SWOT and competitor analysis. Establish short-term, long-term and stretch goals. Make sure your annual budgets tie into the strategic plan.  Measure your progress towards the plan on a regular basis. The goal is to construct a useful document.

Mark Koscinski is a CPA in Northern NJ.  He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of MOCEANS CIL, an organization serving people with disabilities in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Susan Hornak, MBA is a writer/editor and an advocate for people with vocal disabilities. She serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors at MOCEANS CIL.