CPAs get asked to serve on boards a lot. Sometimes organizations want us for our technical expertise, but sometimes they just need someone at the table who is comfortable talking concretely about money. I spent many happy hours volunteering as a teenager, and during college I looked forward to being able to use my new accounting skills for the greater good. I’m a big believer in learning from other people’s experiences wherever possible, so once I passed the CPA exam, I took to questioning everyone I knew (including partners at my firm) about their volunteer board experiences. The main advice I got was to hold off for a couple of years until I had enough professional experience to know what I didn’t know. This was sound advice! I took it. While I now have a couple of years of experience volunteering as Treasurer for my small Home Owners’ Association (HOA), I’ve continued to question others about their volunteer experiences. I’ve gotten some excellent advice during this process, and want to share it with you.
Three crucial sets of questions to ask the organization:
- Financial/Fundraising Commitment
- Are board members expected to personally contribute a minimum amount to the organization?
- Do board members have individual fundraising quotas?
- Sometimes board members get sued. Does the organization have liability insurance that covers board members? If not, it’s worth looking into a personal umbrella policy, which is a way to add extra general liability coverage, including coverage for attorney’s fees, onto an existing insurance policy.
- Time Commitment
- How often and for how long does the Board meet?
- Where are meetings held? Is it okay to attend via phone or computer when time is especially tight (i.e. busy season)?
- What other events are Board members expected to attend?
- How long is a board member’s term?
- Job Description/Expectations
- What technical knowledge are they expecting you, as a CPA or future CPA, to bring to the table?
- If you’re signing on for Treasurer or another titled position, is there a job description? Is the most recent person who held the title available to train you and ease the transition?
- Does the organization already have a paid or volunteer bookkeeper, or are they recruiting an accountant because they need a volunteer bookkeeper?
- If it’s a larger organization or handles a lot of funds, do they have an annual audit?
Three crucial questions to ask yourself:
- Are you passionate about the organization’s mission? If you’re not, is there some other factor that will make your commitment rewarding? (E.g.: a loved one is passionate about the organization; you’ll get peace of mind knowing your PTA/HOA is in good financial condition; you’re burning up with curiosity to get to know the inner workings of not-for-profits.)
- If the organization were a person and it was ill, would you want to interrupt your life to bring it chicken soup? (All organizations will have crises that require board attention. It might not happen during your tenure, but you should be prepared.)
- Do you like the people you would be working most closely with? If you’re not sure, find out if there’s an event or portion of a board meeting you could attend to get a feel for this.
Editor’s Note: The OSCPA posts volunteer service opportunities from not-for-profit organizations and governmental entities. Visit: www.orcpa.org/public/resource/26-not-for-profit_board_openings/ to view current opportunities.