CFO Corner: Robert J. Wydra, Jr., CPA–Working Under the Radar
What was the biggest challenge your organization faced over the last 12 months, and how were you able to overcome it with financial leadership? Being a nonprofit reliant on state contracts, the biggest challenge has been continuing to provide a high level of service with decreased funding. Our funders want to pay less for overhead costs, and we have also seen a reduction in contributions over the last few years. We are continually looking for ways to maintain our infrastructure while adapting to less revenue.
What has made your organization stand out and be successful financially? Constant adaptation to our environment has been the key to our success. As funders decrease spending, we are constantly looking for ways to adapt our programs to do more with less. Our rich history and reputation as a leader in our environment has also helped us maintain our programs.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your position? That diversification of revenue streams, continually seeking ways to improve operations, and our ability to fundraise are critical success factors for nonprofits. When more restrictions are placed on contract dollars, you must be able to fundraise efficiently to maintain quality programs. Reputation, image, and a willingness to present your story to donors are needed to attract necessary funding.
How do you prepare for board meetings and what information is most important for you to present? There are three groups that I prepare for when a board meeting approaches: the Finance Committee, the Audit Committee, and the full Board. Presenting information succinctly to each of these groups is key. Our Board is comprised of volunteers who rely on us to run the business and present to them only the information they need to provide guidance and decision making support. I rely heavily on the use of dashboards and consolidated high level information they can quickly and easily grasp. I make it a point to highlight significant variances with full explanations of those variances before questions are even asked. The goal is to make sure they know you have a full understanding of the finances and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect organizational assets.
What advice do you have for other CFOs? Be succinct and transparent. A CFO must fully understand the organization’s finances and be able to address any questions or concerns related to them. In addition, the accounting and finance department must maintain a customer service focus when dealing with operational staff. The best accounting department is one that most people don’t know exists.
Bringing more than 17 years of not-for-profit financial experience to the position, Mr. Robert J. Wydra, Jr., CPA, accepted the role of Chief Financial Officer for Children’s Home Society of Florida in July 2007. Currently leading a staff of 40, Mr. Wydra is responsible for the statewide business and financial management of the $100 million not-for-profit organization, as well as the financial management of the Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation. Additionally, Mr. Wydra administers the budgeting, accounting, financial reporting and internal auditing, risk management, and pension for Children’s Home Society of Florida.
Mr. Wydra began his service with Children’s Home Society of Florida in 2001, joining the organization as Controller, where he was instrumental in centralizing accounting and finance functions to reduce monthly reporting times, improve reporting accuracy, and reduce audit fees by 25 percent. Moreover, Mr. Wydra re-engineered the accounting system and procedures to reduce data reporting errors and annual system fees, and he implemented a paperless financial reporting system, thus reducing costs and improving the speed of reporting. Mr. Wydra further demonstrated his financial expertise and management when he led a separate accounting department to provide outsourced accounting services to four other not-for-profits, and when he led the efforts to select and implement a new 403(b) retirement plan and a new $1 million human resources/payroll system.
Before joining Children’s Home Society of Florida, Mr. Wydra built a $1 million book of business providing individual and group financial planning and investment services during his yearlong role as a Financial Adviser at Merrill Lynch.
Previously, Mr. Wydra has held the positions of Vice President of Operations at Professional Accounting Solutions, Inc., in Rockville, Md., and Chief Financial Officer of The Conservation Fund in Arlington, Va. He began his career in 1988 as an AP Coordinator with The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va., where he served until 1996, earning his way up the ladder to Senior Accountant/Analyst prior to his departure.