'Data is one of our most valuable assets ...'
An interest in the nonprofit sector started early: I began my career in public accounting, working frequently with nonprofits. I was always intrigued by the mission-based focus, donor philanthropy, and how that money was spent to further the passions of those organizations. The University of Oregon Foundation was a client of mine for several years, and I greatly respected their leadership and culture. I took the director of accounting position when it opened up, and was promoted to CFO within a year.
From audit and assurance to CFO: My role as an auditor and consultant helped me develop skepticism and curiosity, and a level of confidence to ask questions, learn quickly, and develop relationships. Our role here as a fiduciary over donor gifts is one I take very seriously. It involves a level of attention to detail and ensuring accuracy. It doesn't matter how small a gift is; I want to ensure that it is spent accurately and according to the donor's intent.
Budgeting to support strategic objectives: The foundation uses a zero-based budget model, where we start from scratch every year. We are very diligent in spending the money thoughtfully and view it as central in our role as fiduciary; every $10,000 we spend could have been a student scholarship. The budget supports strategic objectives, and my team and I look ahead to the projects we want to accomplish in year one, year two, and year three, which helps to set our priorities and examine cost. I believe in talking honestly about how much something is going to cost and whether it's worth it. We have to be accountable to ourselves as a leadership team, to the board of trustees, and to donors.
Data-driven strategies: Data is one of our most valuable assets. Information on donors, prospective donors, students, parents, alumni, and faculty is utilized by University of Oregon fundraising staff to effectively engage with every constituent of the University. The foundation's job is to capture, manage, cultivate, and clean data in partnership with University fundraising staff. Over the last few years, I've worked with our team to match our donor database data with our financial accounting system data so that our University partners can see the path from the time a gift flows in the door to how it's spent on the way out. This has helped to round out the data we have available to the University, and allow our fundraising partners to more effectively engage constituents. Donor data confidentiality is taken very seriously by the foundation. We think about who can read the data and who owns the data so that it's not shared with someone who shouldn't have access. That has tied in over the past few years with a focus on cybersecurity and making sure that data is safe, as well as training for all employees so that data only goes to the right people.
— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.