News & Views

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Looking Beyond the Obvious as You Select Your Next Board Treasurer

By Jeff Ballow, Senior Consultant - Recently I met with a client, an executive director of a small youth development organization, who was concerned about an impending leadership transition on her board of directors. The long-time treasurer, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), was set to leave the board, and this ED did not see any natural replacements among her current board members. “I guess I need to go find an accountant who can immediately step into this role,” she said glumly.

While I agree that having a treasurer with an accounting background or extensive experience in finance is definitely desirable, the “conversation” shouldn’t stop there. Here are five characteristics to look for as you seek to fill this critical position:

Aptitude: It’s true: You don’t want a self-professed “numbers-phobe” sitting in this role. Some level of facility and comfort with numbers is indeed important. I once worked closely with the finance committee of a Brooklyn-based multi-service agency. The committee had recently welcomed a new member, a lawyer who had limited exposure to financial data in her day job. But the ability was clearly there, and before long she was the committee member asking the best questions. She eventually became treasurer – and a very good one at that.

Transferable experience: Many professionals are exposed to financial information in their jobs. Maybe you have board members that review financial reports, or create budgets for new projects, or work one-to-one with bookkeepers in their small businesses. These types of experience will help ease the transition into the treasurer role.

Willingness to get up to speed: Every new treasurer will start somewhere on the learning curve. This is even true of finance professionals, especially those in the private sector. Your nonprofit with its part-time bookkeeper and $250K budget is probably nothing like your board member’s company. Even if you are lucky enough to have someone with nonprofit accounting or financial management experience, that person will also have to be committed to learning the nuances of your organization’s finances.

Available time: Sometimes an organization’s narrow thinking about this role blinds them to reality – that the obvious choice, the financial wizard who joined the board last year, simply doesn’t have enough time to do the job well. From my standpoint it’s better to have an engaged treasurer without as much formal training than an expert who is uninvolved.

Interest: Above all, the prospective treasurer has to want to be the board’s point person on all things financial. And don’t assume that your board’s resident CPA is interested. Some people want their board experience to be different than what they toil away at during the work day. I once interviewed a candidate for a board position, a finance professional in City government, who told me that the only two things he was not willing to do was 1) sit on the finance committee and 2) be treasurer. He was, as it turns out, much happier and more effective as a member of the program committee.

If you have someone with financial expertise who is ready, willing, and able to move into the treasurer’s role, consider yourself fortunate. But, if this is not the case, don’t feel like to have to go outside your current board to fill the position. Take another look around the room and consider the above characteristics. A stellar future treasurer might be sitting right in front of you.

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