Having served in multiple paid and volunteer roles in the not for profit sector, I developed a deep appreciation for the board treasurer.
As an executive director, I always valued the treasurers who helped me focus on internal controls and future forecasting. They could review the financial statements and cash flow projections with a “fresh eye” and point out some issues that I had not identified. Answering their questions or explaining an issue would often require “extra work” from me, but it was usually well worth my efforts.
As a board chair, I sought to work with treasurers who didn’t just report what happened in the past by presenting the income and expense statement. I wanted a treasurer to serve as the board’s eyes and ears in our finance department and be a leader who would sound alarm bells if there were issues with internal controls.
Over time, I learned that a great treasurer is not only essential for a strong organization but also builds trust with donors, funders, and the broader community. I also learned that great treasurers share these six traits:
#1: Great Treasurers Dive Into the Numbers
A great treasurer doesn’t just look at the bottom line on the income and expense statement (sometimes called a profit and loss statement). Instead, they really comb through financial statements to identify trends and determine the organization’s financial health. Great treasurers will typically compare the actual YTD financials with budget projections and the same period for the prior year.
When great treasurers finish reviewing the income and expense statement, they turn their attention to the balance sheet, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and cash flow projections. They seek to fully understand the organization’s financial health by fully understanding these financial statements.
And the very best treasurers also ask to review the bank statements!
#2: Great Treasurers Ask Hard Questions
While none of us like to be in the hot seat, great treasurers ask executive directors and CFOs hard questions (diplomatically, of course). After all, it’s not unusual for management’s projections to be optimistic, and great treasurers sometimes offer a reality check for management.
Great treasurers may dig deeper to find out why a revenue line item is below budget or an expense line item is significantly over budget. They also ask tough questions about receivables and the cash flow projection. A few questions that great treasurers have asked me include:
#3: Great Treasurers Take the Audit and 990 Seriously
Great treasurers understand that an auditor’s review of the organization’s financials will be more thorough than the Finance Committee’s periodic reviews. Consequently, they will work with the audit committee (or finance committee) to carefully select the auditor, considering their experience and expertise. As part of an audit committee, they will also meet with the auditor before the engagement and share any questions they hope the audit will resolve. They will also meet with the auditor at the completion of the audit, and ask lots of questions about any weaknesses, deficiencies and recommendations the auditor may have included in the letter to the board.
Great treasurers will also ask management to give the finance committee regular updates on resolving any weaknesses or deficiencies noted by the auditor.
#4: Great Treasurers Care Deeply About Risk Management
Great treasurers understand that risk comes in many forms (such as potential staff malfeasance, executive transitions, lawsuits, storms, looming recessions, etc), and they work with management to ensure these risks are managed appropriately.
An organization’s internal controls are among the best ways to manage the risk of staff malfeasance and executive transitions. Great treasurers understand the importance of producing written financial procedures and ensuring they are followed. These procedures not only make it easier to detect possible malfeasance, but they also provide a training tool when accounting or executive staff change.
As part of managing risk, great treasurers also ensure that the organization reviews its insurance policies at least annually and determines if the organization is adequately covered.
#5: Great Treasurers Focuses on the Future
Most treasurers understand the importance of reviewing past financial performance (the income and expense statement), but great treasurers are focused on the future. They will, for example:
#6: Great Treasurers Make Their Own Board Report
Great treasurers have sufficient familiarity with the organization’s financial statements, budgets, and internal controls to give the finance report at the board meeting, and they don’t delegate this important task to the CFO or executive director.
I have been lucky to serve with some truly great treasurers, and they have always made the organization stronger and helped me improve as a professional or a board member. I’ve also worked with a few underperforming treasurers, and my next blog post will share traits of underperforming treasurers.
About the Author:
Read Dolph Ward Goldenburg's Bio
Last month I was speaking with an executive director who shared that he hadn’t taken a full week off in over 18 months. I’m certain that I cringed when he said this despite my best attempt to have no observable reaction.
All too often we are so busy taking care of our organizations and our families that we fail to take care of ourselves. As months of continuous work stretches into years, passion and zeal slowly drain from us and we begin to resent our work. I learned the hard way this fact the hard way; In fact, I used to be one of those people who never took a vacation, then I burned out pretty bad.
Since experiencing my own severe career burn out, I now take at least one extended trip every year where I completely unplug from work – no email, no voice mail, no check-ins.
When I ask someone why they haven’t taken a vacation, it normally comes down to two factors: Some say they can’t afford to lose the time at work; Others say they don’t have the financial resources to take a trip; and a few say they can afford neither the time nor the cost.
If this sounds like you; If it’s been more than 12 months since you’ve taken a real vacation without working or checking email, then this bonus break is for you. I’m going to share some ideas about finding the time and the resources necessary to give yourself a break.
#1: Pick a Date
It’s always easier to plan your trip at least a few months in advance; In fact, My husband and I plan our big trip where we unplug from the world and reconnect to each other about a year in advance.
So the first step to actually taking a vacation is to pick a date in the future and lock your vacation plan in. Once it’s on the calendar, tell your friends, family, work team, and board or boss that you’ll be unavailable during that time. With enough lead time, you can start to figure out how everything will get taken care of without you; They might be work-related like “who will be trained to process payroll” or it might be personal like “who will visit Mom at the nursing home on Saturday night”.
Most important – you have to plan around the trip and protect your vacation dates. A few months before your trip just gently remind people in meetings and conversations when you will be unavailable. Since not everyone at your office is going on vacation with you, people will suggest planning meetings or events when you are on vacation. When this happens, don’t feel like you have to cancel your trip. Instead say, “That sounds like a really important , and I wish I could be there. But I’m scheduled to go to on this amazing trip. During one-on-one check-ins with your supervisor or those who report to you, also remind them of an upcoming trip. Since it’s not their vacation, it’s easy for them to forget you have planned one.
Finally, I would also recommend not scheduling anything the day before you leave or the day you return; This will enable you to have a lot less stress on both ends of your trip.
#2: Book your tickets
Back in February, my husband and I decided to take our annual trip to Morocco around Thanksgiving because it would only cost him 8 vacation days (Tgiving and the day after are holidays at his office). So we bought our plane tickets in March as soon as he confirmed with his office that he take the time off. That’s right, we purchased tickets a a full eight-months in advance because buying a ticket is a commitment device.
Tickets might have gotten cheaper in a couple months, but buying the tickets is a commitment device. Once we spent money on tickets, we are far more likely to protect the days we’ve chosen from being eaten up by other responsibilities.
Now we haven’t booked a hotel or planned other activities, but I know we will go to Morocco and have a great time. Do you know why? Because we bought our tickets.
#3: Get creative with finances
The other primary reason that people don’t take vacations is their personal finances. I’ve been fortunate to take some very expensive trips and also some very inexpensive ones. So let me share my tips and tricks for very inexpensive vacations:
Save on lodging:
For many people, the number one trip expense is lodging but it doesn’t have to eat your entire budget.
If you have kids:
With a bit of planning and some creativity, you can break through whatever barriers are preventing you from going on vacation. But most importantly get the f**k out of your office and your city; reconnect with yourself and the person you love the most; and enjoy life for a bit.
About the Author:
Read Dolph Ward Goldenburg's Bio