Eye to Eye: Finance & Fundraising

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

So let’s leave it alone ’cause we can’t see eye to eye

There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy

There’s only you and me and we just disagree

Ooh ooh ooh, oh oh oh

Dave Mason of Fleetwood Mac, “We Just Disagree.”

Central to nonprofit finance is risk reduction, safety, and appropriate accounting controls. Do you agree? In contrast, nonprofit fundraising seeks to seize opportunities, explore donor/funder interests, and deal with uncertainties like funders changing their priorities, donors failing to honor their pledge, or the campaign stalling. Do you agree again?

If so, then you’ll probably also concur that the two functions are seemingly at odds and often make their respective staff very nervous.

I’ve witnessed these organizational dynamics for more than 25 years, so my pearls of wisdom are born from up-close experience.

Honestly, I am always worried when the CFO is part of the development committee. When I was a nonprofit CEO I made sure that didn’t occur. I’m not saying that keeping the finance and development staff apart is a management “best practice,” but it has been my practice because of the fundamental difference in how the respective staff is trained and how each view the organization from their own vantage point.

Should finance managers leave fundraising alone? Should fundraisers leave finance alone? Total separation is unlikely and would even be troublesome. The fact is that the finance office has to manage and account for the funds that are brought in, and the fundraisers have to verify and report that the funds were well spent, so total separation isn’t wise; maybe appropriate arms-length respect is what we’re after?

I suggest three LAPA best practices for navigating these issues:

  1. REVIEWS: The CEO or the deputy director should bring the CFO and the VP of Advancement together two or three times a year for a high level private review meeting focused on the numbers. Each party should submit their analysis in writing beforehand and present the data at the start of the meeting.
  2. SOFTWARE: Most finance and/or donor management software have integration features built-in so that the finance and fundraising staff have access to the required numbers. But most nonprofits don’t use that feature; you may want to reconsider.
  3. PLEDGE: A personal pledge from each of the heads of the finance and fundraising divisions to avoid the big mistake of disagreeing publicly over certain matters must be solicited. It’s the CEOs job to make sure this firewall is in place. If not, the board and the chief executive will be less likely to back their ideas.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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