Recently, our founder and CEO William Vanderbloemen hosted a webinar conversation with Allison Webb of AcctTwo to discuss transitions and succession in the accounting and other behind-the-scenes jobs, rather than just in leadership roles. It’s critical to have these conversations, because thinking of succession only in terms of senior leadership is short-sighted, and lack of succession pipelines for highly skilled back-office jobs will lead to significant struggle. Mission and vision can translate to the finance team; they’re the ones who communicate the financial health of your church to the leader so they can vision-cast. They provide stability.
When an organization loses members of finance teams while having no succession plan, they lose the information and stability that those team members provide. The first step in maintaining stability and maintenance of information is planning. Few people hire a finance person until there’s been a financial impropriety, and many don’t plan for succession planning within the finance department until it’s too late.
The three things to keep in mind when understanding succession within financial departments are: systems, processes, and people. It is our natural tendency to jump straight to determining what people a team needs, but before you can look at the people, you have to have a good understanding of your systems and processes.
- What systems do you have in place? What tools does your finance department use?
- What processes are you using? How are you collecting cash, paying out checks, and reconciling accounts?
Determining and documenting these things is no quick job – it will take time, and it may seem inconvenient. But clarifying your systems, processes, and people during a time of stability ensures that your organization will be in a better position to transition and will enable you to have a faster turnaround when the time comes.
Lastly, once you understand your systems and processes, you can move on to people.
3. What are your people’s skills? How many team members do you need?
When considering the number of team members, size and complexity of your organization are the ultimate determining factors. A team needs some clear segregation of duties, as an environment that allows for cross-training and sharing of roles in order to develop skills for long-term success. It’s critical to ask whether you can hire from within- not necessarily to ensure that you do hire from within when the time comes, but to ensure that the transition and time of the transition both go smoothly. Ask yourself: How are you mentoring and coaching those within your finance team to prepare them for your next role? How are you creating an environment that fosters growth?
Transition and succession within all departments come down to the cultural fit, especially in faith-based organizations and churches. You can find any random accountant with technical competency off the street, but if you want to hire someone who shares your faith and mission, that will inevitably take more time and fostering of vision. Promoting from within verifies that the person stepping into a new role already shares your mission and vision.
Finally, Allison shared the key functions of a back office that most pastors and ministry leaders would not think of when preparing in advance for emergency transitions. The key components to consider are the Ins and the Outs, as well as understanding the role of the departments.
- Define your “Ins”: how is the money coming in? How are you collecting it and getting it into your system?
- Define your “Outs”: what programs are you using? How does your team do payroll? How do you pay vendors?
- Connecting is the ultimate role of finance and accounting. Leaders need a way to reconcile data and information to answer questions like, “how much money do we actually have?”
As you seek to define and clarify what people, processes, and systems are in place within your organization, keep in mind that the ultimate role of finance and accounting departments is connection. They connect the questions churches and ministries have to the data that can provide answers. Leaders need a way of reconciling data and information to answer questions like, “how much money do we actually have,” or “how can we best steward our finances to fulfill our vision?” Healthy accounting and finance teams are critical for the long-term success and stability of your organization, so do not wait until it is too late to have transition and succession plans in place.
A significant portion of AcctTwo’s work is helping in emergency situations. They offer solutions to provide technology, to get systems in place, and to provide the people to help. They understand churches and how church financial processes work, and they get to help fulfill those processes so that senior leadership can go out and continue to fulfill the mission. If you would like to see more of what AcctTwo does and how you can get in touch, go to their website, or email Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org.