Free to Be You and Me: A Financial Story

You do not need to be me, your accountant, your former boss, or your treasurer.  You get to be you.

Stumped (and freaking out)

I was working on a project that had me stumped.  There were multiple ways that I could go with the financial analysis and recommendations, and I was overwhelmed with the options facing me.  Working at Propel Nonprofits (formerly Nonprofits Assistance Fund and MAP for Nonprofits) is like being on the dream island for nonprofit financial problem solvers, and so I asked my colleagues.

I got three separate answers from three very different financial leaders.

All of the answers were technically right, but they didn’t solve my problem entirely.  I felt even more overwhelmed after speaking to everyone.  I thought, at least here, I could get one solid answer to the financial challenge that was facing me in my project.  But that’s not how nonprofit finance works.  Nonprofit Finance requires an ability to manage multiple realities and so did my project.

It hit me that the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have enough information. It was that I didn’t trust myself to solve it.  It was an important client.  There was a deadline.  I wanted to give up.

Have you been there?

When facing a challenge, nonprofit leaders have a plethora of people and resources telling them the right way to deal with the challenge.  They have a board of directors who oversees the organization; there are funders, volunteers, other staff members.  But at the end the decision rests with the individual leader and how they are going to solve that problem.

I want to encourage nonprofit leaders out there to settle into your own financial leadership skills.   If three, nay, four Propel Nonprofits financial experts can come up with three different pathways to the same solution, you can trust that gathering information and coming up with the individual solution for your organization is the right decision.  You get to be your own version of your financial leader.  You don’t need to emulate an accounting professor or your CPA.  The values, visions and experiences you bring to the table are valid and should be honored.  Take a moment to clear out the brush of what everyone else has told you and settle into a conversation with yourself.  Write down what kind of organizational leader you are and what your values are.  Those values apply to your financial leadership as well.

The 13th Golden Rule of Finance

Don’t try to silo the person you are from the financial leader you are becoming.  Embrace your empathy or your activator.  Structure your financial meetings with focuses on programmatic.  If you are feeling lost, a great place to start is to review our 12 Golden Rules of Nonprofit Finance.  These are solid, pragmatic guideposts for your financial leadership.  But to the 12, I’d like to add the 13th:  Be yourself.  That’s where your strength of leadership lies.

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