In many organizations, the treasurer is the board of directors’ hardest working member. Depending on the duties outlined in your organization’s bylaws, this individual might manage cash flow, act as a liaison to outside auditors and craft investment policies. A role this critical to your nonprofit’s financial health should be filled by a highly qualified person.
Roles Big and Small
On the most basic level, nonprofit treasurers oversee financial management and reporting. In larger organizations with accounting staff and a chief financial officer, the treasurer typically heads a finance committee that reports to the board of directors. The treasurer focuses mainly on reviewing internally prepared financial reports and evaluating financial policies and procedures.
In smaller organizations with no internal accounting staff, the treasurer may need to get down in the trenches. For example, a treasurer might:
- Write checks and make deposits,
- Manage and safeguard funds,
- Maintain financial integrity, and
- Oversee outside bookkeepers, tax preparers, fundraisers and investment advisors.
Regardless of a nonprofit’s size, the treasurer typically helps shape financial policies, such as those for investing, borrowing and cash reserves. And this individual presents regular reports to the board of directors, ranging from a simple dashboard to a detailed, data-heavy presentation.
Depending on your organization’s resources, your treasurer might take on duties personally or simply provide oversight to confirm that staff is handling them appropriately. But in most organizations, the treasurer presents an annual budget for board approval and frequently reviews interim reports for variances between actual and budgeted figures.
Your board also relies on your treasurer to provide timely and accurate financial information to support its decision-making. In addition to financial statements, this person might supply information on financial ratios and trends that describe the organization’s current and projected financial status.
Compliance with relevant laws and tax regulations is another top priority for treasurers. Among other things, your treasurer should work with your financial advisors and keep a calendar of reporting and filing deadlines to avoid late fees, penalties and possible reputational damage. And he or she also should coordinate with financial advisors and insurance agents to perform periodic risk assessments, particularly when it comes to assets, data and confidential information.
Once your nonprofit reaches a certain size, an independent CPA should annually audit its books. But your treasurer should be responsible for reviewing the results and recommendations and presenting them to the board.
Not just anyone should serve as a nonprofit treasurer. Look for an individual with demonstrable financial literacy, including a thorough understanding of nonprofit financial reports and accounting practices. A good treasurer also pays close attention to detail, adheres to deadlines and keeps accurate records.
The most effective nonprofit treasurers usually boast strong communication and leadership skills. They’re able to translate numbers and concepts such as unrelated business income into jargon-free, plain English that can be readily understood by all board members. And while a nonprofit’s accounting or finance staff might draft the annual budget, the treasurer must explain and potentially defend it to the board.
Start a Search
Many nonprofits encounter challenges when seeking qualified individuals to serve on their board. This can be particularly difficult if you’re trying to recruit someone to serve as treasurer. Consider local business executives, particularly CFOs, and professional advisors such as CPAs. Even if they’re not able to serve, your advisors may be able to recommend someone who could.