As a not-for-profit leader, your focus is on your mission and the populations you serve. Sitting down to work with a CPA — with their numbers, spreadsheets, and filings — can be intimidating. But you want to maximize every last resource at your disposal to fulfill your mission. And your CPA can help, as long as you have the right relationship. Make him or her an asset to the organization rather than an outsider focused only on the books. Here’s how:
Financial management and compliance: This is the core of your relationship with your trusted financial advisors. Your CPA is eager to help you run your organization in a financially responsible and efficient way, from basic accounting practices, budgeting, and reporting to forecasting and regulatory compliance.
Your financial advisors can help you with more specific issues as well, such as maintaining tight internal controls, policies and procedures, specialized software, and technology.
Having a financial “reset” conversation every year gives you the opportunity to chat with each other about what’s ahead in terms of new regulations and how you might improve your organization’s financial efficiencies.
Purchase and sale decisions: If your organization is considering expanding its footprint, investing in new equipment, selling a significant asset, moving, or making a similarly big decision, talk to your CPA before taking action. He or she will have ideas about how to structure purchases or sales to be most advantageous to the organization. As always, the earlier you get your trusted advisors involved in these types of decisions, the better.
Ideas and opinions: It’s important for nonprofit leaders to have a sounding board to vet ideas and hone opinions. Your advisory team works with clients in many types of industries and can share a variety of perspectives and experiences. Sometimes it’s helpful to just have a good listener for a confidential conversation about an employment matter or ethical dilemma.
Board education: Ask your CPA to present your audited financial statements to the board in person. The board must understand the financial statements to govern effectively, and it’s wise to establish open lines of communication with your auditors.
Board recruitment: It’s likely that your CPA and his or her colleagues serve on various boards and have therefore seen the best (and worst!) of nonprofit governance. Your advisors can weigh in on which skills you need on your board and, based on their community involvement, may even have suggestions for individuals to fill various roles.
Staffing: Your CPA can help with staffing issues by identifying skills gaps, reviewing job descriptions, and sharing thoughts on workflows. In addition, your CPA firm can provide outsourced services from basic bookkeeping to CFO duties, depending on your needs and auditor independence requirements.
Reviewing documents: In addition to having your attorney draft and review important documents, have your CPA review them, too. These documents include bylaws, insurance policies, and contracts. Your CPA can give an opinion on how these agreements can be structured in light of your specific organizational circumstances.
Deterring fraud: Nonprofit organizations are often susceptible to fraud because of limited operating budgets and fewer resources to protect themselves. Your CPA can assist with training to increase vigilance up and down the org chart and help executives set a tone of zero tolerance. Your CPA can also help to implement secure internal controls, which are a key step to deterring fraud.
It would be a shame to retain the services of a CPA and not maximize every last bit of their knowledge on behalf of your organization. They may be able to offer game-changing advice in any number of areas. Rather than only engaging them for “the numbers” or “the books,” integrate them with your team and put their talents to use.
One way to get the most out of your CPA is to work with a not-for-profit specialist. Not only are they experts on the accounting needs of organizations like yours, but their work with other not-for-profits means they have insight and perspectives on the tough decisions you’ll face. Talk to Dembo Jones’ team of not-for-profit accountants and let us help you fulfill your mission.