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A Match Made in (Finance) Heaven

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

By Brett Conner, Grants Manager, City and County of San Francisco, Department of Children, Youth and Their Families

Brett Conner is a member of NCG. The lessons he took from NCG's Financial Management Series filled a need he has felt for a while but didn't know how to meet – the need to bolster the nonprofits DCYF supports with financial management skills that help improve the sustainability of the organizations. Register for the Series >

Read on for the whole story...


In March 2015, lightning struck. For six months, I’d been looking for new ways to help the nonprofits we serve get to the next level. We had a good thing going with community organizations – our support for the quality of their programs, incorporating the latest youth development principles, and developing skills of their staff all were going over well. However, dozens of executive directors, board leaders, and administrative staff were telling us they needed something more: they needed help understanding, managing and communicating their finances.

First, we plotted the basics with a consultant (I’ll save those details for a future article), but the question remained: who would help us bring this idea to life?

My big break came that fateful March day at NCG’s financial management workshop, led by Hilda Polanco (pictures right) and her expert team at Fiscal Management Associates, or FMA for short. FMA elegantly communicates financial concepts to a non-finance audience. It was at this workshop I first learned of Liquid Unrestricted Net Assets (or LUNA) as a measure of nonprofit fiscal health. We’ve adopted LUNA as a key performance measure for all of our grantees and applicants as we assess the robustness of a community based organization.

In developing my own financial literacy, I was better able to support my grantees, and we continued to engage FMA as the ideal partner on our technical assistance project. Together we formulated what became the DCYF Organizational Sustainability Initiative, or OSI. Launched in December 2016, OSI has six core components:

  1. Cohort Learning – This is the backbone of OSI, and the area of greatest investment. Cohorts of eight nonprofits receive tailored assistance in financial management. The team-oriented approach brings together each organization’s executive leadership, key area directors (finance, development, and program), and board members to work on their organization’s operations and outcomes.
  2. Standalone Workshops – These are larger, more general convenings focused on core technical skills. Launching in 2018 will be a Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional Course (CNAP), the only nationally recognized certification program for nonprofit accounting professionals.
  3. Consulting – These one-on-one engagements focus on foundation building and organizational culture. The goal is to work with organizations to build stronger teams capable of making more informed financial decisions.
  4. Hotline – One of the innovative components of OSI, this toll-free number is accessible to finance staff in need of a quick answer to a burning question or a referral to other resources. FMA staff answer each call (or take an e-mail) and work collectively to get nonprofits the information they need.
  5. Embedded Support – These opportunities are designed to provide tailored financial management support. Through these engagements, FMA works directly with an organization to provide technical or advisory support for up to three months. Core focus areas include crisis/transition, skills building and infrastructure.
  6. Staff Training – Staff of the Department of Children, Youth and Families also receive advanced training on nonprofit finance and administration.

As of this writing, we’ve graduated two cohorts from OSI, and a third is soon to begin. We have provided more than 400 hours of consulting and launched critical embedded support services for two nonprofits, with a third to begin shortly. Grantees have unanimously expressed gratitude for the assistance FMA has provided, and this collaboration will continue to bear fruit for years to come.

This key partnership between FMA and the City and County of San Francisco has already brought positive benefits for our grantees. And there is much more on the way. For more information on OSI, visit the website here >