Coworking: Bill Finley

He's the CFO of the Butterfly Pavilion in Colorado.
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Bill Finley

· 3 min read

Coworking is a weekly segment where we talk to CFOs and others in the finance space about their experiences, their companies, and the larger economy. Let us know if you are—or you know—a CFO we should interview.

Bill Finley is the chief financial officer for Colorado’s Butterfly Pavilion, whose mission is to “foster an appreciation of invertebrates by educating the public about the need to protect and care for threatened habitats globally.” Finley previously worked as a finance director for the National Ski Patrol, finance secretary for the Salvation Army in Alaska, and as a preacher.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Describe your job for someone who doesn’t work in finance.

My job is to help the leadership of the organization make sound financial decisions and communicate those decisions to all organizational stakeholders including: staff, donors, board members, and volunteers. Additionally, my job is to look out for the best long-term interests of the organization. This means bringing a risk-management lens to discussions and ensuring we are looking into the future in all our decisions.

What’s a new responsibility that has fallen on the plates of CFOs over the past five to 10 years?

As a nonprofit CFO, a lot has changed. Part of my career has been [managing] IT from most nonprofits. [Cybersecurity] poses one of the greatest risks to an organization and one of the areas that program directors have the least understanding. In most nonprofits, it’s outsourced until you get of size and usually between $15–$30 million [annual] budgets before you have an in-house IT department.

It’s one of those things that’s costly; people don’t understand it, and it’s one of the things that, a lot of times, people will try to do on the cheap, and you get what you pay for.

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What’s a trend that you’re noticing in the nonprofit finance space as a current nonprofit CFO?

I consider myself a nonprofit finance and operations guy. I haven’t worked in the for-profit sector since I was in college when I worked in retail. There’s always been two paths to being CFO. One has been a traditional financial one—where you go up and become an accountant, then a comptroller—but I’m not sure if they make the best CFOs, especially in a nonprofit space. The other thing that’s happening a lot in the nonprofit space is CFOs and finance people coming into the sector from mostly for-profit spaces, sometimes from government—but mostly from for-profit spaces. A lot of times, they come in and get hired because they’re good finance people but if they don’t understand [the] program or the mission of the organization and the why, they will fail. They’ll do it for a few years, but ultimately fail.

What’s the greatest misconception about being a nonprofit CFO?

The first one is the name. Nonprofit doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make a profit. There is immense importance to ensuring that the finances of a number of nonprofit organizations are managed well.

The hardest is probably understanding that financials follows mission. Mission comes first. That’s the hardest philosophical thing to get.

What advice do you have for future CFOs?

If you are an accountant, become an excellent communicator and spend time understanding databases and cybersecurity. If you’re a program person, go back to school and study accounting. You need to understand the underlying accounting principles.

News built for finance pros

The latest news and insights corporate finance professionals need to know to keep up with their constantly evolving industry.