Financial Professionals Must be Nonprofit Change Agents

Financial professionals at nonprofit organizations need to do three things: learn, unlearn, relearn. The key skill set is leadership so that there is a constant evolution of financial process because the finance department has always been the office of “no,” but is now must be where mechanisms are put in place for “yes.”

Accountants and financial professionals are at the center of organizational change because “change will never be as slow as it is today,” said Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, opening the AICPA Governmental and Not-For-Profit Training Program this week for more than 500 accountants in Las Vegas, Nev. Ellison-Taylor, who is Global Executive Director-Finance Thought Leadership at Oracle, keynoted a session titled “Owning Our Future.”

There are four elements pushing that change: globalization and geopolitics, demographic changes, customer empowerment and technology automation. “Accounting is what we do. Technology is how we do it,” Ellison-Taylor said. She warned, though, that “technology is important but people are even more important.”

Globalization is more than just regulation for U.S.-based nonprofits also working abroad. It’s also impacting finance and investments. When it comes to demographics, there are multiple generations in the workforce. The new workforce asks “why” instead of simply allowing managers to point the way and set priorities. Financial executives must make it clear that leadership needs to be flexible because it is more expensive to replace staff than develop a nurturing environment.

Customers can fact check work in real time so financial professionals need to stay ahead and eliminate friction between departments at getting information. People in the 40s and 50s have been expecting, even anticipating, technology and automation. Ellison-Taylor spoke of watching the futuristic cartoon “The Jetsons.” There were flying vehicles and robots like “Rosie” handling tasks.

Technology avoids “The Bob” process. She spoke of an organization where staff referred to a financial tracking process by the name of the staffer who developed how to handle spreadsheets and systems. Well, “Bob” left the organization and the process remains his legacy. That’s not a best practice, she said.

In her view the emerging issues with which financial professionals will confront include cybersecurity, blockchain, integrated reporting and sustainability. It has always been people, process, technology and when it comes to nonprofits throw in mission, purpose and values.
Financial professionals “need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Ellison-Taylor.