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Accounting for your Relationship with your CFO

There is a saying that if you want to know what is important to a person, you look at their checkbook and their calendar. These items indicate where a person spends their money and time.

This is not a foreign concept to grantmakers. Many foundation representatives indicate that the first thing they look at, when reviewing a proposal, is the budget. Creating budgets is a key skill for grant writers. Maintaining a good relationship with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) can enhance that skill.
We budget for a lot of things, such as time, expenses, and even efforts. But many times, our budget does not reflect our stated priorities. To effectively write proposals and their accompanying budget, grant writers need to put the right time and efforts into our relationship with our CFO.
For many of us, software such as Google, Outlook, and Mailbird help manage our days. The same framework can help us create an effective and respectful relationship with the CFO. Here are some of the features of this type of relationship:
Tasks: Hands-on or hands-off?
Your level of engagement with the creation of the budget will vary depending on the policies and personalities at your workplace. You might need to drive the conversation, prompt refinement of the budget, or request a review of the budget-to-actual report.
Comments: On or Off?
Will you have a voice in the budgeting process? Sometimes, an organization can shift the way it categorizes expenses. This can be beneficial for a grant writer who is trying to align the budget categories with those of funders. However, you need to know what level of input you have in the process before making frequent suggestions.
Shared documents: View or Edit?
Once the budget is completed, you may have the task of reframing it to meet the needs of the grantmaker. For example, if the grantmaker wants separate line items for phones and internet, you might need to work on breaking down the communications line item into smaller parts. Will you work on this with your CFO or will she send you the numbers you need?
Contacts: Primary or secondary?
Each person has her own communication style. Does she prefer phone call, texts or emails? Is one topic per email preferable or is it better to have one email that summarizes progress on each issue? How should high-priority items be differentiated from those that can wait? By having a conversation about this in advance and making note of the CFO's preferences, you can streamline your communication.
Calendar invitations: Drop-in or planned?
When you need to talk to your CFO, sometimes email just will not do the job. When this happens, will you walk down the hallway and knock on the CFO's door or set up a meeting so she has time to prepare? Does she work better by answering questions as they come up, or by having regularly scheduled project meetings?
Blind copy: Detailed or eyes only?
Though many organizations have policies that address confidentiality, there are valid reasons to be concerned about sharing salaries, expenses and other financial details. Get to know the level of comfort that your CFO has about sharing these details, and make sure that you are only asking for what you need. Be respectful of her responsibility to safeguard the organization.
Pull out the budget that you submitted most recently. Can you envision what would be in the proposal, just by reading the budget? If not, take a look at your calendar. Has this been impacted by the amount of time you have allocated to your CFO?
Jen Hurst, M.A. has developed programs and strategies for nonprofit organizations her entire career, all the way back to middle school when she and a few friends started their philanthropic work by raising $150 for the local animal shelter. 

GPC Competencies:
Knowledge of how to craft, construct, and submit an effective grant application.