Vault’s presentation on the five common challenges to overcome when evaluating and maintaining effective and efficient not-for-profit and association accounting departments was a huge success. “Efficiency. Transparency. Design. Is your accounting department functioning optimally?” drew in many participants, which included mostly C-suite personnel. Co-presenter Catherine Robbins notes, “we did a show of hands, and there weren’t many accounting department staff members present. It was largely association leadership in attendance.” The two presenters had hoped to attract senior finance, operations and management leadership, believing they could benefit the most from the session; accordingly, those in attendance were largely senior finance professionals alongside top management officials, including positions of CFO, COO and CEO.
The co-presenters agree that their session was given a prime-time slot during the conference, as it was directly after the keynote speech. While there were six sessions simultaneously occurring, the Vaulters drew about twenty percent of the total conference attendance to their two-hour-long presentation. “It was great being able to capture and keep a large audience engaged for two hours,” says co-presenter Amy Horner.
The session kicked off with the presenters conducting a general overview of the five common challenges to overcome that will ensure accounting departments function optimally. Then, the audience broke off into small groups of about three to five people to discuss situations and develop solutions. After the audience members had sufficient time talking amongst themselves, Horner and Robbins drew everyone’s attention back to center stage to recap and summarize the small group discussions. The three common challenges that appeared to be the most discussed were: not preparing reports in a timely fashion; presenting financial information with no context around numerical data; and not satisfying management and governance needs.
Because the two presenters were ultimately informing the audiences about variables within accounting departments that association leadership should be evaluating on a regular basis, they weren’t too surprised to hear one audience member ask how she could implement change and establish better accounting practices within her organization. Knowledgeable COO Horner responded to her inquiry by affirming that change can be a less than pleasant experience for some, “I think a lot of people are afraid to rock the boat or are afraid to contribute ideas on effective organizational change because it may be wrongly perceived or can jeopardize their jobs.”
This reveals that implementing better practices in accounting departments may be a hurdle for many organizations beyond diagnosing the challenges, and that the mere notion of a perceived challenge may be something that some try to avoid acknowledging for one reason or another.
To illustrate another situation, an audience member contributed that by getting his organization’s leaders involved during the budgeting process, they had a better sense of their financial statements and results from the beginning of the year. Additionally, an organization’s “tone from the top” was cited as an essential mechanism to bring about change and/or manage effectively. Robbins recalls that much of the advice that peers suggested to one another resembles what she, as an experienced CPA, would have recommended as well. “The audience members reinforced many of our predetermined solutions, which was a satisfying result.”
The co-presenters were pleased with the level of participation and engagement from the audience. “Our session was incredibly interactive. We were initially concerned about whether people would talk to one another or not, which would make or break our presentation, but it turned out that people were open to learning from one another. That’s where the knowledge comes from: people talking to people who are going through this daily,” acknowledges Horner.
After the presentation, the two presenters enjoyed networking and engaging in some knowledge transfer for their own professional benefit. Robbins related an enlightening conversation with association leaders about ‘duty of care’ and unforeseen circumstances that may arise during company travel, as it relates to association staff and volunteers. She recognizes the conversation as something directly applicable to a new client she has undertaken at Vault. In summary, the two CPAs enjoyed the opportunity to be at the center of the association community, as they caught up with colleagues and made new contacts with other professionals in the not-for-profit community. What’s more is that the best is yet to come; Vault has submitted speaking proposals for ASAE’s Annual Meeting, which will be held next August. As for next year’s Associations @ Work Conference, the Vaulters will begin formulating new speaking topics to submit early in 2020…