Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Controllership Services?

Omar Visram
Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Controllership Services?

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how to best manage your organization’s financial operations. What are your goals? What skills and resources are available to you via existing staff, board members, or other stakeholders? Is your organization growing at a rapid pace? Are budgeting and planning increasing in importance?

Answering those questions will help you shape the needs of your organization and better understand what approach to financial oversight is required. Bookkeeping is (or should be) table stakes. You need someone to manage your financial records and ensure accurate and transparent financial reporting on a regular basis. The question is, do you need to approach your financial management from a more strategic point of view - thinking of the big picture, or are the day-to-day bookkeeping tasks and outputs enough?

What are Controllership Services

Controllership services focus on helping organizations effectively manage their financial and accounting operations. They can be delivered by in-house professionals or by an external firm, and can be either full time or part time roles. Controllership services may include financial planning and analysis, budgeting, financial reporting, internal controls, and compliance with financial regulations. The goal of controllership services is to provide organizations with accurate and timely financial information, ensure that financial operations are being managed effectively, and provide financial guidance to senior leadership and the board of directors.

Why is a Controller Important to a Nonprofit

A controller is an important role in a nonprofit organization because they are responsible for managing the organization's financial affairs - which can be more complex in the nonprofit world. The controller is responsible for ensuring that the organization's financial records are accurate and up-to-date, and for preparing financial reports that are used to make informed decisions about the organization's operations. The controller is also responsible for developing and implementing financial policies and procedures, and for making sure that the organization is in compliance with all relevant financial laws and regulations. 

In some cases, the controller may also be responsible for managing the organization's budget, forecasting future financial needs, and identifying areas where the organization can save money. Overall, the controller plays a crucial role in helping the nonprofit organization achieve its financial goals and fulfill its mission.

How Can a Controller Help a Nonprofit Improve

A controller can help a nonprofit improve by ensuring that the financial information being used to make business decisions is accurate and up to date, and by providing financial analyses and insights to help the organization make more informed decisions. In addition, the controller may identify areas where the organization can improve its financial processes and controls, helping to reduce costs and increase efficiency. For many nonprofit leaders, having access to Controllership services and personnel expands their own skill sets and empowers them to operate more strategically within their organization and stakeholder group.

According to Brandon Yan, Executive Director of Out On Screen who outsources their Controllership services to Enkel, “...not only do we get deep expertise in the nonprofit sector, but the reporting and support I get is helping me be a better ED to both our staff and Board of Directors.”

Adding Controllership Services at Your Nonprofit

While there is little doubt that the strategic oversight and financial insights provided by the Controller role can add tremendous value to a nonprofit, the question becomes “how best to acquire these skills at your organization?” You can consider the following steps:

Assess your organization's needs: Evaluate your current financial management processes and identify areas where additional controllership services would be beneficial. Identify the specific tasks, responsibilities, and expertise required for effective controllership.

Determine resource availability: Assess the resources available within your organization, including staff and Board members with financial expertise or the capacity to hire new personnel. Consider whether you have the budget to support adding a controller or if you need to explore alternative options like outsourcing to firms who specialize in delivering Controllership as a service.

Hire or designate a controller: If your organization has the resources, you can hire or outsource a controller with experience in nonprofit financial management. Look for candidates or firms with a strong background in financial planning, analysis, compliance, and strategic decision-making. Alternatively, if you have an existing staff member with the necessary skills and experience, you can designate them as the controller.

Define the scope of controllership services: Clearly outline the responsibilities and tasks that the controller will handle and ensure there is little to no overlap with other staff or accounting partners. This may include budgeting, financial analysis, compliance management, and oversight of financial operations. Determine the level of involvement and authority the controller will have in decision-making processes.

Establish internal controls: Work with the controller to establish and enhance internal controls to ensure the accuracy, integrity, and security of financial information. This may involve implementing procedures for financial reporting, approval processes, segregation of duties, and monitoring of financial activities.

Collaborate with stakeholders: Engage with the board of directors, senior management, and other key stakeholders to communicate the addition of controllership services. Highlight the benefits of enhanced financial oversight, strategic decision-making, and improved financial reporting.

Continuously evaluate and refine: Regularly assess the effectiveness of the controllership services and make necessary adjustments. Seek feedback from staff members, the board of directors, and other stakeholders to ensure the controller's role stays aligned with the organization's needs and objectives.

It's important to note that the specific approach may vary depending on the size and complexity of your nonprofit organization. Should you hire someone on staff? Should you hire a third party provider? Is it a full-time or part time role? What should it cost and how much can you afford to spend? Today, it’s more common than ever for nonprofits to outsource core back office functions, including Controllership services.

According to Rebecca Pauls, Executive Director at PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network), “I think outsourcing accounting services is the way of the future for nonprofits. The philanthropic world is reluctant to fund costly operations and administration because it takes dollars away from the core mission. Not only am I getting great, multi-disciplinary accounting services, but my costs to get that level of service are way lower than they would be if I had to hire all of the people to do the work, and then manage them day-to-day.”

Signs Your Nonprofit is Ready for Controllership Support

Here are a few telltale signs that now might be the right time to add Controllership services at your nonprofit:

  • You have an annual operating budget of $500k or more
  • You are having a hard time figuring out if you are on budget
  • There are opportunities that you can't commit to because you don't have the right visibility on your organization's finances
  • You are not meeting your obligations with the CRA
  • You need longer term planning for the organization
  • You’re struggling to stay on top of compliance and regulatory requirements with existing resources/processes

Effective controllership ensures financial integrity, regulatory compliance, and informed decision-making that lead to credibility, sustainability, and the ability to fulfill your mission. Consulting with financial professionals or seeking guidance from nonprofit management organizations can provide valuable insights and support in implementing controllership services effectively. 

At Enkel, we specialize in all things “back office” including Controllership as a service. With over 100 nonprofit clients, we’ve developed a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Canadian NPOs and have built a proven methodology for managing their financial and accounting operations.

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