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Finding humanity in nonprofit accounting

By: Dean Dorton | February 18, 2021

In this article, Kaydee Ruppert, Dean Dorton Accounting and Financial Outsourcing Manager, shares insights into common challenges nonprofits face within their accounting functions. Nonprofits are built with passion and operated from the heart and soul; your accounting function doesn't have to stand in the way of your mission.

Accounting and Financial Outsourcing | Nonprofit & Government

Written by Kaydee Ruppert, Accounting and Financial Outsourcing Manager

One of the greatest compliments that I’ve ever received was this – “You brought a humanity to our accounting department that I didn’t know could exist.” Wow was I floored! Even though I’ve moved away from that workplace, as I work with new clients, I carry a commitment with me to not let that guy down. Leading an exceptional accounting/business function and being viewed as human should not be mutually exclusive!

People who are drawn to nonprofit organizations tend to put their hearts and souls into their work. We challenge ourselves daily to find better ways to advance the mission and make a difference. This common mission is our compass, providing direction as we conduct the business of our organization. We all have this in common and that’s a powerful truth to keep front of mind. When frustration creeps, remembering that we stand on this significant plot of common ground can make all the difference.

The accounting/business function should be like air for your organization. It’s necessary, life-giving, and can even be refreshing. If the air is stale and distracting, it’s difficult for the people in the room to give their best attention to the mission. Accounting information should be simple, straightforward, and relevant to your organization. As accounting and finance people, it’s our job to listen actively and unobtrusively to the whole room and open windows as needed, even before we’re asked to do so. With the financial basics taken care of, leadership can focus on strategy and outcomes instead of compliance.

A common problem in nonprofit accounting is clutter. Many nonprofit organizations don’t have the budget to ideally staff a best-practice accounting department, so instead, they tap individuals better suited for program or admin work to perform multiple roles. These individuals do the best they can, but often create financial reports akin to indecipherable hieroglyphics. Make time at regular intervals to step back and ask yourself if your financial process is effective for the leaders in your organization. Is your accounting function supporting your organization’s management, or are you expecting management to bend to the accounting function?

Managing the calendar is a challenge for us all, but follow through is an essential component in trust. Reports need to be available when their users need them, not when it’s most convenient for the accounting team. Identify the barriers to follow-though and tackle them systematically. Simple recognition of the importance of being dependable goes a long way in the authentic development of a team.

Inevitably we all make mistakes, we all miss deadlines, and we all occasionally miscalculate the importance of an ask to the person doing the asking. When this happens, biology takes over and suddenly you’re enveloped in “fight or flight” adrenaline. Pause, but don’t freeze. Resist becoming defensive or burrowing into your office shell. Seize on these situations as opportunities to demonstrate humility and your commitment to continuous improvement. Be quick to apologize and eager to learn. That vulnerability is exactly what makes us human. And once you’re assured status in the human race, you’ll have a much easier time getting things done well!

I would love to talk to you about your accounting and finance function. I have over 25 years of accounting, finance, and administrative leadership experience in the nonprofit sector. It is my passion and I’m here to help.

As a manager in Dean Dorton’s Financial & Accounting Outsource team, Kaydee Ruppert puts the humanity in accounting for numerous nonprofit organizations and ensures they have the financial data they need to advance their missions in our communities.

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