US Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua (RELEASED)

June 23, 2019; Associations Now

A recent survey of CEOs and CFOs at nonprofit organizations reveals that they view organizational priorities and challenges somewhat differently. I am not sure there’s much surprise in that, but the details of the differences in perspective are interesting and suggest that perhaps more conversation between those two key positions might be warranted.

The information is contained within this year’s study from BDO (Binder Dijker Otte)’s Institute for Nonprofit Excellence. Some of the more interesting findings include:

  • While 60 percent of the CEOs surveyed say that “inability to meet demand for services is a high/moderate challenge,” only 44 percent of CFOs agree.
  • 44 percent of CEOs say staff recruitment and retention is a high-level challenge, but only 27 percent of CFOs agree.
  • Managing growth and increased regulations are big challenges, according to more than a quarter of CEOs, but less than 10 percent of CFOs feel the same.
  • CEOs are game for technology investments, with 75 percent saying they’ll invest in it in the next year, but CFOs are more skittish, with only 58 percent of them saying they’ll do so.

Laurie De Armond, partner and national co-leader at BDO’s nonprofit and education practice, has a particular take on this set of disconnects. “These findings reinforced some things that we sometimes see in practice at organizations, where CEOs make decisions without sufficient input from those on the finance side of the house,” she says. “We’ve seen situations where an organization CEO makes a decision that ultimately maybe wasn’t as well informed as it would have been if they had included the CFO in the process.”

But conversations like these may not be so easy. Ultimately, everyone must see discussion as a productive exercise, where lack of participation may come with real consequences for the organization. Busy CFOs, who see their first job as sorting the numbers in a more operational way to meet strict compliance requirements, reported feeling overstretched by calls to a set of more strategic roles, as was reported in a survey conducted by Ernst and Young.

All that said, if this survey is working from a base similar to previous years, its nonprofit respondents are very different from most—that is, they’re much larger. In fact, so much larger that NPQ generally takes the findings with a hefty dose of salt when it comes to its usefulness to most readers. I might suggest these findings can be transferred, though; many who act in the nonprofit CFO role—even if they are externally contracted—should be able to help CEOs anticipate everything from capital to cash flow needs and make informed suggestions about what may need to be done and within what timeframe. The best are keyed in strategically; when that’s the case, the position—whether internal or external—is truly worth its weight in gold.—Ruth McCambridge