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Should a CPA be on your board?

October 14, 2011

CPA’s are members of the most trusted profession in the country and perform their duties admirably for the boards on which they proudly serve.

Barely a week passes that I do not receive a call or an e-mail from a not-for-profit organization looking for a CPA to serve on the Board. This is a good idea. CPA’s are members of the most trusted profession in the country and perform their duties admirably for the boards on which they proudly serve.

This blog is to challenge both the CPA and their fellow board members regarding the role of the CPA on a board. All too frequently, the CPA serves as the board treasurer or worse, as the individual primarily responsible for the budget and financial functions at the not-for-profit. Few can argue with utilizing a board member’s strengths. So delegating the fiscal oversight to the CPA-board member would appear to be a great use of talent and skills.

What I have seen, however, is not a delegation of fiscal leadership but an abdication of fiscal responsibility on the part of the rest of the board members.
The primary responsibility of the board is to fulfill the mission of the organization. Meeting the budget makes it possible.

A thorough understanding of the organization’s financial condition is the foundation on which many of the programmatic and mission-oriented decisions rest. I contend, therefore, that it is incumbent upon all board members to become involved and thoroughly understand the organization’s financial condition. Does this happen when a CPA is the board treasurer? I think not.

The board’s responsibility is discharged when it is involved in planning and monitoring the organization’s activities. The primary way the board gets involved in planning and monitoring is by asking good questions and expecting (demanding) good answers. Who will question a CPA if that person delivers a report or makes a statement that one does not thoroughly understand? Be honest with yourself; how likely are you to challenge an expert in the financial field?
Don’t downplay the role of the board as an entity in and of itself. Use the talents on your board to challenge the group. Do not use the skills and talents of your individual board members to remove the rest of the board from the thought process.

Do not remove the CPA from the import mission-related decisions facing the board. This can happen if you use all of the CPA board member’s time and energy marshalling the financial function. You will deprive your board of the critical thinking, investigative problem solving, and long-term business oriented skills that the CPA brings to your board.

Think of the CPA (and all of your board members) as individuals bringing different skills essential to the smooth and efficient functioning of the board as a group. Avoid the temptation to view board members as people fulfilling a vocational job opening.

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