Who is your competition for that nonprofit CFO or VP of Finance job in the Washington DC job market?
When you see a job advertisement, some aspects of the job are obvious. You can envision the kind of work you would be doing, and recognize the new skills you can learn. Maybe you can even take a peek at the 990 tax filing to see the salary of the last person in that job.
But you almost never see your competition for the job, or know what truly drives the hiring decision.
That’s why we’re bringing a little transparency to the hiring process, by pulling back the curtain on the data we've collected from our executive searches for finance professionals in the nonprofit sector.
What does a CFO or a VP of Finance role look like at a non-profit?
The specific requirements of each job at this level will largely depend on the size of the nonprofit’s budget and the complexity of its funding sources and programmatic activities. In organizations with smaller budgets and limited funding sources, the CFO may need to take responsibility for a variety of functional areas in the absence of specialized staff. With increasing budget size and complexity, the CFO’s role becomes more strategic, leading a functional staff and providing guidance to the executive team on the financial impacts of new and existing programs.
Although having nonprofit experience is important, the candidate pool is not limited to professionals from nonprofits -- candidates who have done association or corporate work will typically be considered. However, you will boost your candidacy if you can demonstrate that you have had exposure to and understand the organizational dynamics within nonprofits.
So how will your resume stack up against your serious competitors?
Hiring requirements vary widely and are unique to each employer’s situation. But there are a few things that employers usually tell us they want to see:
- Are you actively guiding the executive team as well as line managers to make decisions based on financial data and projections? Do you articulate financial implications of proposed strategic plans? Do you manage up to the executive team and the board?
- Do you proactively seek to understand the business drivers for each program area? Do you have good business acumen? A solid understanding of the balance between the mission and the money? Are you a good business strategist for the organization?
- Do you lead the annual planning and budget processes? Do you partner with the executive team to develop effective strategies for long-term funding and financial sustainability? Have you made customized dashboards for all levels of business needs?
- Are you the strategic lead for optimizing revenue? Are you proficient in leveraging your accounting system to get the information you need to respond to economic ups and downs?
- Are you responsible for managing cash flow and forecasting? Have you developed cash flow projection processes and reporting mechanisms responsive to operating needs?
- Do you have experience with nonprofit accounting systems and fund accounting methods? Have you managed a grant portfolio? Supported budgeting for grant applications?
- Can you translate and communicate financial information into understandable and useful data in program terms? Do you help staff understand the program story in financial terms? Do you have experience engaging with staff who lack financial acumen?
- Do you reliably ensure that reporting is accurate and submitted on-time? Do you have experience managing multiple financial reports with deadlines throughout the year? Are you responsible for grant and programmatic reporting?
- Do you give presentations to the board? Have you provided coaching to your leadership on presenting financial data and analysis?
- Do you maintain internal control safeguards and coordinate audit activities? Do you have a track record of clean audits? Or have you stepped in and cleaned up audit issues for an organization? Do you maintain good relationships with auditors?
- Do you work with program managers to ensure programs meet legal and regulatory compliance? Are audit-ready for both operational and funding needs?
- Have you managed outsourced systems, such as payroll or AP systems?
- Are you a strong and experienced leader? Do you know how to run an effective department? Can you flex and fill in according to the capacity of your staff?
- Have you trained and developed your staff in both technical and cultural aspects? Do you mentor social skills? Have you coached your team to guide and advise appropriate level staff? Is your team perceived as accessible and knowledgeable?
And what might prevent you from getting the job?
Nonprofit executive leaders are looking for top-level finance professionals that are willing and capable of engaging with line staff as well as work collaboratively with the executive team and board.
To be competitive for a role as a nonprofit CFO or VP of Finance, you must be able to articulate how you customized the finance function to cultural dynamics as well as unique business needs, such as guiding an organization through significant expansion or downsizing. Hiring managers want to hear about specific examples, not philosophical ideas. Be prepared to talk about what you created and why, starting with the business issue, how you arrived at a solution, the difficulties, how you got everyone on board, and results.
Be mindful of not changing jobs too frequently. You can counteract a resume that shows a lot of transitions by remaining in your most recent position for 5-7 years to establish a record of long-term management or turnaround results.
If you aspire to be a nonprofit CFO or VP of Finance, how can you set yourself apart?
We recommend that you:
- Obtain your CPA, if you don’t already have it.
- Develop a thorough understanding of nonprofit operations and management. If you haven’t worked in a nonprofit, consider doing some pro bono project work helping a nonprofit, or serve on a board. Talk to nonprofit professionals to get the insider perspective. Do some research.
- Make an effort to learn and understand your organization’s programmatic needs. Provide analysis on the financial impacts of initiatives. Prepare data and projections to translate revenue needs into funding requirements.
- Build strong relationships and trust with the board, the executive team, and program managers. Work closely with the development/fundraising team. Make a point to engage and mentor staff outside your office or formal meetings.
- Support marketing and programmatic staff with good business data. Find ways to present financial information in terms program staff will understand and respond to. Develop dashboards or SlideShare content to make the data meaningful and useful.
- Practice telling people confidently and without an ego that which they don’t want to hear. Learn how to make an effective neutralized business case.
How do you get yourself noticed by employers?
Just doing the work and developing the right skills is not enough. If you want more career opportunities to come your way, you need to make yourself visible. Highlight aspects of your background that employers will seek out most often. Frame your experience using the same language that employers and recruiters use for the job description.
Be sure to list any relevant credentials like CPA or CMA. Clearly state any accounting system or reporting program you have experience with.
At a minimum, your resume, website bio, and LinkedIn profile should reflect key concepts that help you stand out from your competition. One of the best places to find the right language is in the job advertisements that you find attractive. But to get you started, here is a short list of key phrases used in some of our recent searches:
Financial management: financial analysis, financial reporting, GAAP, budgeting, forecasting, oversaw financial administration of grants, monitor investment portfolio, maintain positive cash flows, prepared financial analysis, A-133, indirect costs, federal grants, CFDA, 501c3
Strategy: led strategic planning and forecasting, financial strategy, led strategic task force, restored financial sustainability
Leadership: board advisor, advise president, member of executive team, provide direction, client relations, presented monthly financial results, liaised with investment advisor, led multiple departments, senior management, lead a team, contracts management/oversight
Planning and Policy: process improvement, internal controls, instituted financial processes, accounting systems implementation, cash flow planning, recommended initiative, drove process, negotiated terms, coordinated conversions, coordinated budget development process, adaptive planning
Team management: manage vendor negotiations, staff development, led finance department, mentored staff
Reporting: OMB requirements, oversee compliance, streamlined reporting structure, consistent clean audits, prepared and presented reports to board, Great Plains, FRx
We hope you found this overview helpful.
All of our open searches can be found here. If none of our current searches are a match for you, you are welcome to send us a copy of your resume so we can keep you in mind for future openings. Please email your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: "Keep me in mind."
As a candidate, what can you do to make hiring more personal?
What exactly improves your odds of creating a strong connection with another human being? How can you get the attention of the hiring manager and make your case? How can you get your point across even when the hiring process is trapped in the land before time? Your ability to tell the right stories about your experience is every bit as important as your experience itself.
The Staffing Advisors team has successfully completed hundreds of executive searches. We know from experience that the job search process is stressful for even the most accomplished executives. But it doesn't have to be. It’s what our Job Search Guide is for.