Navigating Success in the Nonprofit World

February 3, 2022 Mimi Torrington

Orphan children

Across the business sector, myths about working in the nonprofit world abound: you can't spend money or hire the best talent; you aren't allowed to have too much success; or even --- it’s a fruitless effort, especially for those in the finance space. Nothing could be further from the truth and we're here to negate those rumors about being the CFO of a nonprofit thanks to the training and insights of this week's episode's guest.

This week we spoke with Ed Goble advisor for the Miracle Foundation who shared how CFOs and other financial leaders of nonprofits can thrive, find success and, ultimately, make a difference at the same time--outdated myths withstanding.

Goble's career has taken many turns with his longest stint at the University of Texas as the Associate Athletic Director for Business & CFO, which itself is an educational nonprofit. Later in his career, he became associated with the Miracle Foundation which seeks to empower orphans and vulnerable children to reach their potential and place them in a forever home.

Ed was kind enough to talk with us all and share his advice when considering a career change into the nonprofit world, what CFOs need to know about leading these organizations, whether you need special training to become the CFO of a nonprofit, and the biggest differences in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors as a financial leader.

Considering a Change to Leading a Nonprofit? - Training to Become CFO of a Nonprofit

Ed Goble

So, let’s say you’re considering making the switch from the for-profit world to the nonprofit. You’re ready to commit to something bigger than yourself, something that you feel is going to make a real difference in the world in a tangible way. What’s the most important thing you should know?

Ed outlined it pretty clearly. The nonprofit world is all about heart, passion and loving what you do. Ed described a time in his previous corporate career where Sunday afternoons were the worst part of his week because he knew he had to get up on Monday and do something that he didn’t love.

That old saying really is true: When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Obviously, nonprofit work is still work (often it's quite a lot of work), but when you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t always feel that way. Ed discovered this when he moved from his accounting firm grind to something he enjoyed.

Listen: [CFO Weekly] Episode 18: Building Socially Impactful Companies

Nonprofit work really provides you an opportunity to find your passion, find fulfillment and put purpose to what you’re doing.

“Follow your heart, find out what you love and what you love to do, and find a way to make your way in the professional world based on that," Goble said.

How Nonprofit Finance Differs From For-Profit Finance

nonprofit cfo training

Leading a nonprofit to success looks different than your typical CFO role in a corporate environment, but how different exactly? Of course, while a for-profit company may aim to give back, it is ultimately responsible for delivering value to shareholders and customers. Whereas, when you manage the finances for a nonprofit, doing is good IS your business.

The problem is that many people think that managing a nonprofit requires you to live by a brand new set of rules, throwing out everything you learned in business school and beyond. But, Ed Goble says that these two competing "rulebooks" of for-profit vs. nonprofit companies are often based on pervasive myths about what it means to lead a nonprofit, and basically, the rulebooks are wrong.

In fact, the widely accepted rules of running a nonprofit are crippling those organizations from the outset. According to Gobel, they're starting the race already in last place because of these imaginary rules we’ve placed on them.

For starters, the world operates with this belief system that nonprofits should spend as little money as possible, especially on overhead. This means salaries, facilities, benefits, marketing and the like. We expect people to come work for these organizations for less pay, fewer benefits and lackluster rewards (at least material ones), which puts nonprofits at a serious disadvantage when it comes to their ability to attract and retain talent.

Related Article: Hiring Talent While Scaling

The other thing about the rulebook is that it doesn’t allow for nonprofits to take risks and take time to get their feet underneath them. When we expect them to only spend the dollars that come in the door, we don’t allow them to innovate, market themselves and figure out exactly what they need to be successful.

From a CFO’s perspective, Goble says it makes no sense. “I’m a firm believer in spending the necessary money to build a winning organization and allowing the organization to be as successful as possible," he said. “To me, that is what the nonprofit space really offers people. It gives oneself and others a great opportunity to make a big difference and to matter in the world.”

Myths About Leading a Successful Nonprofit

There’s this myth about nonprofits that from a career standpoint, you’d do better spending your career at a for-profit company, while maybe volunteering or donating to nonprofits. While it might be true that the salaries and benefits of a for-profit corporation might be better, this myth discounts the non-material rewards that come with nonprofit work. There is no dollar amount that you can put on changing someone’s life; on making their existence better than it would’ve been had your organization not shown up.

The other myth is one that far too many people fall for. And that’s the idea that you’ll never be able to do it. The problems are too big to solve. You’re wasting your time by devoting your effort and energy and life to something that you’ll never see tangibly get any better.

The only response to that is to imagine what a world would look like where nobody had the courage to tackle big problems. Where nobody was trying to solve world hunger, climate change, homelessness, or provide for orphaned children. Sure, the world’s problems might be too big for you to solve individually, but when enough people get together, you never know what’s going to happen.

The Miracle Foundation is a perfect example of a thriving nonprofit that solves a big problem. When founder Caroline Boudreaux visited India and witnessed orphans living in terrible conditions, many may have said that her mission to care for them was too difficult, too big an issue to fix.

But by changing the life of one child at a time, the Miracle Foundation has now helped more than 15,000 children in 20 years, with a goal to bring 200,000 children to loving homes.

In her words, "Miraculously, people of all ages, from all walks of life, and from all socioeconomic backgrounds have joined us on this journey over the years. Thousands of people have taken a stand for children and donated to support our mission," she said.

Read More: Giving Back During A Pandemic: Why Our Commitment Still Stands

So, Why Lend Your Expertise? Do You Possess the Necessary Knowledge and Training to Perform Favorably as a CFO of a Nonprofit?

nonprofit cfo quote about passion

Because there are three things that everyone in this world wants, no matter who you are or where you come from. To love and be loved. For their families to be healthy, happy, and taken care of. And to make a difference.

“There’s no personality fit that makes a good nonprofit employee. It’s a person fit. It’s all about passion,” Goble said.

Leading a nonprofit is about wanting to help humanity out of the dark moments that we find ourselves in. It’s about wanting to address the issues of inequality and environmental risk, and make the biggest dent in those problems that we possibly can.

Interested in learning more about the Miracle Foundation? Read Founder Caroline Boudreaux's story or check out their proprietary Thrive ScaleTM here.

Considering giving back to children in need? Donate to the Miracle Foundation here.

If you're a CFO in training yourself for a nonprofit or any other industry, you may want to check out these other resources with some extra freebies that will help you in your day-to-day.

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