Raising the Bar Higher for NFPs
19 September 2012 at 10:33 am
Opinion: With the sweeping reforms to the Not for Profit sector currently in motion, now more than ever they are being pushed towards best-practices and professionalism. Stephen Crook, the financial controller of Vision Australia, explains how further education is a must for NFPs wanting longevity and success in a changing landscape.
Having worked across a number of industry sectors including retail, petroleum supply-chain, insurance, television production services and as a chartered accountant for Ernst & Young, as Vision Australia’s financial controller I have had a wide-ranging and interesting career path. But underscoring this varied experience has been a ‘best-practice’ focus leading me to undertake a Chartered Secretaries Australia’s (CSA’s) Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance.
Vision Australia is Australia's largest provider of services for people with blindness and low vision, both in terms of budget ($84 million for the 2011-2012 financial year) and employees (800 employees equating to 690 full-time positions). When I was offered the role as financial controller for Vision Australia I was presented with the challenge of changing long-held, inefficient practices in order to reign in operating deficits and meet compliance requirements.
I took the role on because it presented a huge challenge. It is an opportunity to make things more efficient and faster within a leading NFP. Anecdotally, NFPs have been considered second-rate corporate citizens which have not adapted to a commercial environment, yet Vision Australia’s executive was benchmarking best practices. For instance, we now have one day closes for month-ends that are not quarter-ends and 15-month rolling forecasts to provide an ‘over-the-horizon’ view of the organisation’s progress.
We’re at the pointy end of best practices and reporting across all aspects of Vision Australia. CSA’s Graduate Diploma is a natural component of my role in Vision Australia and, generally, my experience with large organisations. Given the size of Vision Australia, I needed a deeper level of understanding of critical issues ranging from risk management and running annual general meetings to changing a constitution.
I’ve become more aware of gaps in my knowledge; and for me knowing what you don’t know is as important as knowing what you do. For example, through the course, I learned that Vision Australia’s enterprise division — that provides an employment assistance program for visually impaired employees via a third-party logistics and warehousing service — was appealing to larger corporates that have a corporate social responsibility charter. This provides a selling point of differentiation for Vision Australia as an organisation.
There’s also the added level of credibility which the course provides. If the people driving compliance and risk are properly qualified, the board and executive have more confidence in the systems and processes in place. Personally, having the course under my belt has improved my interaction with the higher levels of management; directors are more comfortable with signing off on accounts and asking questions about their duties.
With the sweeping reforms to the NFP sector now in motion, NFPs — more than ever — are being pushed towards best-practices and professionalism. The whole NFP landscape is changing and we’re operating in increasingly competitive markets. Further education has allowed me to consider the impact of the changes on our organisation from a sustainability point of view. And by simply interacting with peers and completing the coursework, I have a wealth of ideas and resources I can draw on.
About the author: Stephen Crook is a qualified Chartered Accountant with over 20 years accounting, consulting and management experience within the public, private and Not for Profit sectors. Crook joined Vision Australia in August 2010 and is currently Acting General Manager of Corporate Services. Prior to joining Vision Australia he held senior finance positions in the health sector as the Group Financial Controller of St. Vincent's Hospital and as the Manager of Financial Services with the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. He has also held leadership positions for the last 15 years in listed and private companies and the Not for Profit sector including as the Chief Financial Officer of Athletics Australia.