One of the biggest frustrations in the nonprofit-accountant relationship is a lack of clear communication. Whether we’re conducting an independent audit or overseeing your organization’s day-to-day finances, we believe communication is the key to success. There are many things you can do to encourage clear, concise conversations - and a few things your accountant should be doing as well!
How Nonprofits Can Help
Pick your key players
Every organization is different, and depending on your size and structure, it’s not always clear who we need to be communicating with. Decide who will be the main point of contact with your accounting firm; it will be their responsibility to act as liaison between the organization and the firm. Audits can often involve many different departments (finance, HR, development, fundraising committees) so if we’re not directing our questions to the right person, let us know sooner rather than later!
Choose the right method
Communication can take many different forms. But depending on the nature of the conversation, some forms are more appropriate and efficient than others. If your question is time-sensitive, don’t wait for an email. On the other hand, if it’s a complex (but not urgent) matter, an email may give us more time for a thoughtful response. Using the wrong method of communication can also be a security issue. For example, we find that emailing documents back and forth is not only a security risk, but also a sure recipe for confusion and miscommunication. That’s why we offer a secure portal for you to store and share all your necessary documentation. And if you use our CFO Solutions service, all your documents are already digitized, filed, and ready for your next audit - no need to track down hard copies of old files!
As a remote accounting firm, we don’t see our co-workers every day. Although we keep in touch with a variety of digital methods like cloud storage, document syncing, messaging, and video chat (along with plenty of old-school phone calls), it can be hard to maintain clear communication if you’re constantly being left out of the loop. If you receive an email from your accounting firm with one or more people copied, there's probably a good reason. Always be sure to reply all. We would rather receive too much information than not enough.
If you’re not happy with your accounting team, don’t keep quiet. It’s always easier to address problems right away, rather than letting them fester and multiply. Although some may consider us “Year-End Superheroes,” we’re definitely not mind-readers. We may have no idea that you’re frustrated or confused - unless you tell us about it!
But communication is a two-way street. So what do we, as accountants, need to do to help improve communication with your organization’s staff, board, and management team?
How Accountants Can Help
Lose the jargon
GAAP, GL, AR…sometimes it seems like accounting has its own language. On top of that, many finance terms differ between the nonprofit and for-profit accounting world. (For example, a for-profit corporation’s Balance Sheet is the equivalent of the nonprofit’s Statement of Financial Position.) We spend so much time talking to other accountants and using obscure financial shorthand that we often forget to translate those terms for non-CPAs. If you’ve ever been confused by an audit preparation worksheet, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. We’d rather spend time explaining exactly what we need than find out at the last minute that we don’t have the right documentation.
There’s nothing worse than asking a question and never getting a response (or getting a response that doesn’t actually answer your original question). Your accounting team should always be available and ready to respond to your needs. That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to return your phone call at 10pm on a Saturday (hey, accountants have lives too!), but you should never feel like you’re “bothering” us by asking questions or requesting a follow-up. Whether it’s an email, phone call, video chat or in-person meeting, it’s our responsibility to keep in touch and make you feel comfortable.
A successful relationship between your nonprofit organization and your accounting team always hinges upon clear communication. It’s a two-way street, and the only way either of us will get where we’re going is by opening up a productive conversation.