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Hidden figures: Time for accountants and compliance pros to take a bow

February 15, 2021 Category: ColumnFeaturedPurpose
I’ve helped launch over 100 nonprofits and not a single one’s mission highlighted accounting and compliance, but when I was asked to write about hidden figures for Generocity, I wanted to shine some light on the back office and those that run it.

No nonprofit will survive very long without a tight team of bookkeepers, accountants, office managers and payroll professionals and others who are the ones that literally keep the lights on by making sure the light bill is paid.

Founders, fundraisers, and program managers are often the faces we see here in Generocity and other places that highlight the good work of the nonprofit sector, but more often than not, it’s the fiscal department that keeps the nonprofit sector going.

If you want to talk about the “nonprofit pay cut” you make working for a 501(c)3, there’s not a bigger example and bigger sacrifice made then by the accountants who choose to work for nonprofits. It’d be easy for an accountant or financial professional to find good paying work in the for-profit sector, GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) is GAAP no matter where you go, but to make the choice to work in the nonprofit sector is highly underappreciated.

The nonprofit fiscal department is the Rodney Dangerfield of the nonprofit sector.

The nonprofit fiscal department is the Rodney Dangerfield of the nonprofit sector, dismissed as “overhead,” hated because they are constantly telling leadership and program staff that they can’t do things because “it’s not in the budget” or “you’re not allowed to use that money in that way” and the worse “that’s a major audit red flag.” Fiscal managers have to counter the passions of the executive director with things like laws, rules, and regulations.

But if you pay attention, most nonprofits fail not because of poor programming, but because leadership didn’t listen to fiscal or they compromised the department by massively underfunding it, leading to the poor financial choices and compliance issues get them in hot water with their funder, or the law.

So I want to thank the hidden figures working deep in the back office of every nonprofit, even though I, and maybe some of you who want to move fast and be creative to fulfill the mission, have a strong and healthy check by those who control the checks.

The next time someone from your back-office says you can’t do something, don’t kill the messenger, thank them, and work with them to find a solution that works.

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