Vivian Yasunaga, CFO at Child & Family Service in Ewa Beach, Hawaii 

After reading the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities’ report A National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America and discussing it with colleagues at the Senior Leadership Conference and CFO Roundtable, I quickly started thinking about ways to mobilize my leadership team and staff around the recommendations in the report. 

As the CFO, I see my role as more than crunching numbers and monitoring cash flow. I continually challenge myself on how I can support the strategic vision of my organization and engage others across the organization to do the same.  

Consequently, last year, I decided to engage staff in Child & Family Service’s annual budgeting process to help frame its annual budget goals, using the report’s north stars, as our guide. This was the perfect opportunity for staff to partner within the organization and realize their influence on long-term goals and outcomes. I also realized that the finance team could not make key budget decisions without the input of program leaders who best understood the context of the work. This initiative resulted in leadership and staff coming together to think deeply about the financial sustainability of the organization and the impact of their work in the larger Hawaii community. 

Consequently, our board-approved annual budget for fiscal year ending June 2019 was presented statewide to all employees early in the new fiscal year in a way that aligns to the north stars and the themes that emerged during our staff group discussions. 

Below are six ways finance executives can play a more strategic role within their organization: 

  1. Find opportunities that naturally engage staff in thinking and working toward organization sustainability. The budgeting process can present a great opportunity for staff engagement and collaboration. Staff can be presented with the chance to think through the implications of their work on the budget and the larger vision for the organization and community.
  2. Make sure your executive leadership team is on the same page. Ensure your leadership team is well-informed and in agreement on the staff engagement strategies and initiatives the organization wants to pursue and identifies desired results and outcomes. Having your CEO's vision and buy-in will allow staff to see the importance and relevance of the strategy you are seeking to execute as more than just a tactical endeavor.
  3. Engage your board early. Connecting the dots for your board is critical to achieve buy-in and get their support in what you are seeking to do. 
  4. Communicate clearly, consistently, and frequently. Share the organization’s vision and goals for the specific strategy you are pursuing. With leadership on the same page, communication should be clear, consistent, and frequent. It takes time to lift staff out of the day-to-day mentality and get them to think about their role globally in positioning the organization, community, and sector for success. In Child & Family Service’s case, we held informational sessions and familiarized teams with A National Imperative and then used the north stars to guide small group discussions that focused on accelerating Child & Family Service’s efforts to achieve organizational excellence.
  5. Share the plan. Let staff know before and after what you intend to do with the feedback they provide. Be specific as possible, even if all the details are not ironed out. Time is precious, but staff will be more likely to give you more of it if they feel their time is being valued and that their contributions are driving towards a specific outcome that they can track and see.
  6. Drive forward and follow through. Use the information and input you received to execute your strategy. Provide progress updates to the organization and be transparent on how things are moving along. Demonstrate whenever possible how this work is contributing to positive systemic change in the human services ecosystem.  

Finance executives play a significant role in the future sustainability of community-based organizations, and I’ve found engaging staff at all levels of an organization and using the A National Imperative report as a guide are a great way to start thinking through how we best do that. 

In January 2019, Vivian Yasunaga worked closely with Child & Family Service CEO Karen Tan to host a cross-stakeholder convening of local nonprofit, public agency, and philanthropic leaders to determine how to collectively move the north stars forward in their local community.