Grantee Resource: Financial Leadership

The following article, published in 2011, is still relevant today.

An Executive Director’s Guide to Financial Leadership

Written by Kate Barr and Jeanne Bell

There is an important distinction between financial management and financial leadership. Financial management is the collecting of financial data, production of financial reports, and solution of near-term financial issues. Financial leadership, on the other hand, is guiding a nonprofit organization to sustainability. This is the job of an executive director. He or she is responsible for developing and maintaining a business model that produces exceptional mission impact and sustained financial health. To do that successfully, the executive director has to be ever mindful of essential nonprofit business concepts and realities. The following is a guide to this way of thinking for an executive—a summary of what we see as the eight key business principles that should guide financial leadership practice. Continue reading the full article…



The Executive Director’s Finance Cheat Sheet

1. Develop your annual budget with a commitment to its net financial result—whether surplus or planned deficit—and then adjust spending during the year if income is not coming in on pace to yield that net result. Then, complement your annual budget with rolling financial projections that incorporate your most current information about probable future financial results.

2. Diversify your income cautiously, ensuring you have the capacity to develop and sustain the programmatic and operational requirements of attracting each new resource type well.

3. Develop cash flow projections along with the budget and rolling projections so that you can anticipate any cash flow problems well in advance, when you have more options.

4. Plan goals for financial reserves based on your typical cash flow cycles and risks and incorporate reserves into all financial plans and policies. Be sure to foster a financial culture for staff and board that promotes the importance of a regular operating profit or surplus.

5. Pursue restricted funding from those foundations and corporations that understand and value your organization’s mission and particular strategies for achieving impact. When pursuing restricted funding, develop proposal narratives and accompanying budgets that link staff development to program design to superior outcomes, including all related costs as direct.

6. Ensure that your finance function is always properly staffed; if necessary, use a mix of staff and expert contract consultants to achieve this.

7. Discuss expectations for financial roles and responsibilities with board leadership to create accountability and information flow that matches the size and life stage of the organization. Make sure to invest time in developing meaningful financial report formats for the board that reinforce organizational strategies and goals and support the board in fulfilling their responsibilities.

8. Introduce the concept of enterprise risk management to your team and initiate an internal assessment of a full range of risks.

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