Trust Me: I’ve Worked with Hundreds of Nonprofit Finance Teams with Kelsey Vatsaas : Successful Nonprofits

Episode 115

Trust Me: I’ve Worked with Hundreds of Nonprofit Finance Teams with Kelsey Vatsaas

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher  Libsyn

Episode 115

Trust Me: I’ve Worked with Hundreds of Nonprofit Finance Teams with Kelsey Vatsaas

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher  Libsyn

by GoldenburgGroup

More information is not always better. Ask, are we actually using this information? Is it being tracked anywhere else?

Dolph and Kelsey Vatsaas, principal at CliftonLarsonAllen, discuss ways to streamline operations within the nonprofit finance department to improve efficiency, accuracy, and audit results. A good place to start? Step back and ask, “Do we actually use this information?” Learn what to track and what to let go.

*****Timestamped Highlights*****

(5:08) A record breaker: The client with a whopping 1,800 ledger accounts
(9:48) Getting federal grants can be a good time for reflection
(12:28) Don’t be scared to ask for help
(14:35) A Gamechanger: Negotiate the Indirect Cost Rate
(20:35) Show some flexibility with your audit timeline
(22:32) Approaching your auditor when things don’t make sense

Try to negotiate a better indirect cost rate if your nonprofit has several federal grants.

(25:15) The management letter: a useful and under-utilized tool
(30:25) Kelsey’s Wedding: a dysfunctional function? Nah.


Kelsey’s Firm CliftonLarsonAllen:
Read Kelsey’s Blog: Signs of Finance Department Dysfunction and What to Do About It
Freemium: Contact Kelsey for a Free 30-minute Consultation


Read the Transcript for Episode 115 Below or Click Here


Episode 115 – Trust Me: I’ve Worked with Hundreds of Nonprofit Finance Teams with Kelsey Vatsaas


Talk to the users of financial information in your organization: Department heads Audit committee Investment committee Board Finance committee

Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg. Today, we are going to discuss building a high-performance finance office with Kelsey Vatsaas, but before we do, I want to share some information about our most recent offering for small and medium-sized nonprofits. Over the past year, I’ve had, gosh, just a number of organizations that have said to me they would benefit from the participatory strategic planning process that I use, but they just cannot afford the cost of having it professionally facilitated. I’ve been racking my brain about some way that these organizations could use this type of a process at a much lower cost. To help nonprofits like that, Successful Nonprofits™ is going to be launching a Strategic Planning Facilitator Cohort group. It’s going to start in April, and that group will enable your organization to develop and implement a strategic plan with their participation and guidance of a dedicated leadership volunteer.

Let me say that again. It’s got to be a leadership volunteer. It cannot be a staff member that participates because the staff member cannot facilitate your strategic planning process. So, your leadership volunteer will participate in biweekly online cohort sessions to learn and apply the proprietary, proven participatory strategic planning process that we have developed at Successful Nonprofits™. Now the key words here are learn and apply. This is not a passive instructional format. Participants will implement each lesson as the course unfolds. Now, enrolling in this workshop and, of course, doing the work of the workshop is an incredible opportunity to complete a strategic planning process for a fraction of the cost of hiring a consultant. Since this is the first time we’re doing it, early registrants will receive discounted tuition at $2,500, and prices are going to increase after February 15th and then again in March.

So, you can check out more about the cohort group at Let me also share with you that you can’t actually sign up at the website. Participating in the cohort group requires that you and I have a conversation about the process because we only want to admit organizations that we believe can succeed in the cohort group.

Now let’s move on with our conversation for today. Every now and again, I will read a book, an article or a blog, and I will find myself figuratively pumping my fist in the air and shouting, sometimes literally and audibly, to the surprise of the people that I’m on a plane or subway with, “Yes!” Now, this happened recently when I read a blog post entitled “Signs of Finance Department Dysfunction and What to Do about It.” I have witnessed the scenarios described in this article more times than I care to tell you.

Reading it provoked a yes, yes, and for a third time, yes, response with me, so I knew that I had to reach out to the author to share war stories and so I’m delighted that the blogs, author Kelsey Vatsaas, is joining me on the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast today. Kelsey is a principal with CliftonLarsonAllen, an industry services consulting firm, and Kelsey’s professional passion has become helping finance departments move from chaotic inefficiency to streamlined functioning. She has developed a complete finance department assessment to identify trouble, correct it, and chart a roadmap to continued success. Now, let me just say, this is an incredibly important episode for you to listen to, even if you think it does not apply to you or your organization because every organization has finances. Every organization needs to know how to have an efficient and effective finance department.

Hey, Kelsey, welcome to the podcast.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Thanks so much, Dolph.

Dolph Goldenburg: One of the things I said in the intro is that I loved your blog post both because you offer advice on fixing problems, but also because I could absolutely relate with some of the stories you shared. One thing I’ve got to ask you, you mentioned you had a client who had 1,800 general ledger accounts. Was that for real?

Kelsey Vatsaas: That was for real. I actually happened to be at that client again yesterday. We helped them convert to a new software and bring their chart of accounts down to a much more manageable level. It’s amazing how it’s transformed, the work that their team does and how their whole team understands finances. Yes, it was quite an interesting set of accounts, many of which hadn’t been used in 10 or 20 years.

Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s unpack that. How do they get to a point they had over 1,800 accounts?

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah, good question. I think a lot of it was it’s an organization that over the years has offered a number of different products, services and events that they host. Instead of having a flexible chart of accounts that would allow them to use similar accounts year over year and still measure and track things in a meaningful way, they just created a new account every time they did something different. The other thing was that they really leaned more towards the direction of more information is better, but they never stopped to say, are we actually using this? Are we are already tracking it somewhere else? For example, they sell educational courses as one of their product and service offerings, and they track every single separate educational course. Every time they made improvements they attracted as a new course. As we stepped back, we realized that they were allocating every expense to every one of these educational courses, but they were never, ever using that information, not once in 10 years that they could recall had they ever used that information to make decisions. When we redesigned the chart, we thought about, Okay, how can you meaningfully use this, and what level of detail do we really need to track in the accounting system?

Dolph Goldenburg: Let me ask you this question. Is it your sense that management was the one that pushed for creating a new account every time a course was modified or is it your sense that the board was doing that?

Kelsey Vatsaas: You know, I really think this came from a disconnect between the former executive director and the staff who were doing the accounting. I don’t actually think that the board was involved or cared at all. I don’t think the board even knew existed at this level of detail. I think the executive director had always pushed, “We need to track detail.” The accounting team had just gotten into this habit of, Okay, we’ll just keep creating these new accounts. I think it had more to do with the fact that those two groups weren’t communicating, but it didn’t creep so much into the governance level in this situation.

Dolph Goldenburg: Another question that I’ve got is, how many staff were necessary to code and maintain all those accounts as incomes coming in and expenses are happening?

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah. Great question. So, this organization historically had one finance [inaudible]. At some point, they had actually moved into an outsourced finance team which had two or three individuals on a fractional basis. Of those individuals, that book for a level person was spending such a significant amount of their time just trying to get people to code things to these 1,800 different accounts, trying to use them consistently, etc. that once we cleaned everything up, that person was able to do that transactional work much more efficiently.

Dolph Goldenburg: Nice. What are some of the other big dysfunctions that you’ve seen happen in finance departments that you’ve walked into?

Kelsey Vatsaas: Great question. So, particularly with nonprofits, with grant funding, one of the things we see really often is that when an organization scales – and particularly, if that scale is coming through a government funding – that often the process is they created that made sense when they were a one or $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 organization, they just kept and replicated those processes as they scaled. We all know that government is tricky and fickle, and you do have to track in a lot of detail that sometimes you might otherwise not choose to do. Often, what we’ll see is organizations will take these original processes they designed, and they’ll just keep doing them on this bigger skill without ever pausing to step back and say, do we actually need to do it this way? Do we need the track in this level of detail? Does our grant actually require it?

Segregation of duties is one of the most frequently mentioned recommendations in an audit report. Even in small-to-medium-sized nonprofits, it’s important to find a way to make it happen.

Particularly, with the rollout of uniform guidance a few years ago now, while some things got fickler and stricter on grant tracking and reporting, there were actually some things that scaled back where you could take a simpler approach. We’ve walked into so many organizations where they just never had the time to step back and think, could we do this a simpler way? One example was an organization who had gone from a couple million-dollar annual budget to over $30,000,000 annual budget in just a short number of years. When we came in to do an assessment, they had three full-time people just doing accounts payable with most of their work being focused on collocating among all of these different federal grants. It was taking a very long time to process every single AP transaction because of these complicated allocations they were doing. We stopped and asked, “What does your grant actually require? Are there some different options?”

We figured out pretty quickly that they could set up a schedule at the beginning of the year based on [where] they think that the allocation is going to land, set it up in their system, just enter AP like a normal AP invoice, apply that allocation, (once or twice a year) look at how the allocation is actually working, do a little tune-up and be good to go. With that, they were able to shift the resources of almost two full-time people to doing more meaningful finance and accounting work than processing checks.

Dolph Goldenburg: That’s incredible. One of the other grant dysfunctions that I’ve certainly seen happen, especially with government grants (and I’d be interested to see if you have seen this as with some of the smaller and medium-sized nonprofits and most of our listeners are smaller and medium-sized nonprofits) where they’ll get their first government grant, whether it’s a federal pass through the, comes to their municipality, their city or their county or whether it’s an actual state or federal grant, they’ll keep accounting for their income and expenses they did before they had government revenue. One day the program officer walks in and says, “Oh my gosh, you are not accounting for your funds the way this government grant requires that you do.” Suddenly, they find themselves behind the curve.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yes. We see that often. I was over at a client’s yesterday, which is about a $1,200,000 organization. Now, two years ago, they were $500,000, and they received their first federal funding a year ago. My first question to her was, “The programming sounds amazing. You’ve been able to scale and be more sustainable. How’s that grants management going for you?” She said, “You know, it was a bit of a surprise for us,” but she actually pointed back to the federal department they were receiving funding from. She said, “They have been so helpful and supportive of us. Part of that was because when we got this grant where you reached out to them and said, ‘This is our first federal grant, you know, we want to make sure we do these things right. We know it’s tricky, but we don’t have any experience in it. How can we lean on you for support?’” It was really great to hear from her what great support they were getting from the Department of Justice to help them with that. I think it all goes back to the fact that they were at least proactive enough to say, “We know this is going to be tricky, and we need help up front,” because I think that’s where a lot of organizations missed the boat.

Dolph Goldenburg: How smart and strategic of them to go to the funder and not pretend like they know it all and say, “Oh, we’re ready. We got everything under control.” Instead, they went to the funder and said, “Hey, you know, this is our first time on this ride, and we didn’t know what the rules are. We need to know how we’re supposed to handle it.”

Kelsey Vatsaas: Exactly, exactly. The other thing I’m starting to see more and more of our firm’s clients do is before they apply for federal funding, reaching out to their advisor, whether that’s our firm or someone else and saying, hey, before we apply for this, could you come in and help us understand how our processes are going to need to change? What sorts of things we should be thinking about. Particularly what new positions might we need to find? What additional capacity might we need to plan to be able to manage the federal funds if we get them? It helps them as they’re applying for the funds, even though we all know that there’s limited funding you can use towards administrative capacity, but they can at least be planning for what they need to do before they even apply for those funds. I think that’s a really exciting trend that we’re seeing.

Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah. One of the nice things especially about federal grants is, you know, depending on the department, they’ll typically say, “Okay, you can have x percent.” Sometimes, it’s seven. Sometimes it’s nine. Sometimes it’s 10. Sometimes it’s some other number, but x percent can go to Admin. You can pretty much within reason, as long as you justify it, spend that money on whatever admin you need.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Right. Right. And a lot of times we’ll see that 10 percent de [minimum] rate. The other thing that we’re suggesting to organizations: once they’re consistently receiving federal funding, particularly multiple grants from the federal government, is that they consider doing a negotiated indirect cost rate. Often, we’re seeing organizations get rates that are more in the 12 to 15 times higher percent range, which we actually think is more reflective of what it really costs to run and manage a federal grant program. Once you’re at that scale, we would suggest talking to someone about if it makes sense. It is an investment, and it takes a lot of time to get that negotiated rate, but it is worth it for those extra percentages that you can use towards the important administrative function.

Dolph Goldenburg: That might be a real game changer for some of our listeners. How does an organization go about getting a negotiated indirect cost rate?

Kelsey Vatsaas: Good question. So, there’s a whole process, and I’m not going to pretend to be the expert on it. We have folks who are from who just focus on that because it is a pretty complex process, but there is a series of steps that they go through, a lot of which is his historical financial reporting and analysis to be able to justify what it takes for them as an organization to manage and run these programs. One of the changes that happened under uniform guidance was that it used to be that, say you got funding from multiple different departments within the federal government, you could have separate negotiated indirect cost rates with each one, which becomes really confusing for program folks and really complicated for tracking for the accounting team. Now, you have one negotiated indirect cost rate that would apply across the board. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, it would apply to all of your federal grants. That has a streamlined process.

Dolph Goldenburg: That is awesome. I think that would be a real game changer for some of our listeners.

Up to this point, Kelsey, we’ve really kind of focused on the finance office itself, but what are some of the dysfunctions that happen with the interactions between governance, for instance, the finance committee, the treasurer of the board and the finance office?

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah, great question. It’s one of the reasons why, when we do these finance department assessments, one of the most critical things in that process is not just talking to the people in finance, but talking to the real users of the financial information, that being finance committee, if there’s an audit committee, an investment committee, maybe the whole board and also the department directors who should be using financial information to make daily decisions. We were recently [with] a client who we had done a finance department assessment for. We were kind of in the end stages of wrapping it up, and we were at their finance committee meeting. One of their finance committee members happens to be the investment officer of another one of our clients. She had this great perspective from both the client side, doing the finances as well as from the governance side.

As we were talking about financial reporting. What kind of reports does the board or the finance committee receive? Is that information useful? This was an organization where their packet of information that they provided to the finance committee was 30 to 40 pages long every quarter, and it took staff a lot of time to pull this together. She said, “You know, as I step back and think about it here, I bet every committee meeting one of us makes a comment about a change that would be helpful to see to our packet. Our wonderful staff run back may spend all this time, and they make that change. Then those changes and additions never go away. So, we just keep adding and adding and adding to what we’re asking the staff to prepare every time. And that’s not really fair to anyone. How much do we actually use that information that we’ve asked for, that we’ve mentioned in passing?”

You could just see the finance team, you know, they all happened to be sitting in this meeting and their shoulders just relaxed. And they felt like, oh, someone recognizes us because that’s a lot of work. One of the suggestions (and this was a really simple kind of logical thing), but I think for the committees, I’ll hear this in agree was once a year at a finance committee meeting, we’re going to look at the packet of information provided. We’re going to give feedback, we’re going to agree to something, and then we’re not going to make any changes to that for the next year. The staff was happy to just know that this was going to be simplified. They were going to scale this back and they weren’t going to have to continue to evolve this packet every single meeting.

The management letter is one of the most useful documents your organization will get from an audit. Read it.

Dolph Goldenburg: That is awesome. That is absolutely awesome. Let’s talk about some red flags that the finance committee should be looking for to help identify dysfunction in the finance office. One that I immediately think of is if a certain number of months has passed after the close of the fiscal year, and the finance committee has not seen a draft audit or a draft 990 there that’s probably a red flag because it means the finance offices having a difficult time closing out the audit. How many months do you think that is? Six months? Nine months? Like, what do you think of is, that’s when the flare goes up if we have an issue?

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah, good question. We were having this conversation a week ago with a client who’s redoing their finance policies and procedures, and one of the questions was, do we put a timeline on when the audit and 990 needs to be complete? And the one push-back that I had… Well, I definitely agree that the faster you can get books closed and the audit done, it keeps it more relevant. It makes it more useful, and everyone can kind of move on into the next year. The one thing, especially with our nonprofit clients who have a calendar year-end, that I kind of warned against was a lot of those organizations are using audit firms who most of their work is for-profit audit and busy season is going to be February, March, April, May for those firms, and often, you end up paying a significant amount more if you require that yours is done in that timeline.

For clients who have the flexibility and governance feels comfortable with saying, let’s aim to get the audit done within six months and have the 990 within seven, for example, that might allow them to have that audit done in a timeline that doesn’t have that premium cost to it. I definitely think that six months is a good goal. Any longer than that, it’s getting pretty stale, but I do think it’s important for the finance committee to recognize the cost implications, especially if they’re on a calendar year.

Dolph Goldenburg: I’ll share with you that it’s been my experience both as an executive director and also as a consultant, an audit can’t be a draft on it can’t be produced six months after the close of fiscal year, even in December 31 close that there some issues in the finance office. Maybe the finance office can’t produce the documentation the auditor’s requiring. Maybe the finance office cannot respond to specific questions that the auditor has. That’s a real sign of issues in the finance office that have to be fixed.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that’s it. It’s a good kind of rule of thumb or benchmark to look at and figure out what is it that’s going on. The other thing I would say is there often can be this relationship between the finance office and the auditor. I’m a former auditor myself, and so I’ve been on that side of the street, but where the finance team doesn’t ever feel like they can push back at all with the auditor. So, when the auditor send this request list that has 100 items, they never feel like they can say, do we really need all of these? I think that is, and maybe I’m in a position where I have a little different view on it, but I think it’s important that the finance team asks those questions sometimes. A client that we were recently working with and they happen to be an audit client of our firm and we were doing a finance department assessment, and as part of that process we often will do a survey of staff and ask them to kind of roughly allocate how they spend their time. This client between their controller and their senior accountant who were there too strong, it’s strongest, longest standing team members, the two of them are each spending 25 to 30 percent of their time on the audit. You think about all the resources that are going into just getting that audit done and the other valuable things they could be doing with their time. When we broke down why the audit that takes so long, one of the things was that document request list in gathering all this information. We started talking about, okay, let’s dig into that. Let’s look at that. One example was that this organization was set up with multiple different locations, and every location has their own advisory group, their own finance advisory, and they weren’t actually governing had, they didn’t have true governing authority, but they, they did have meetings, they kept minutes and then there were a number of different kind of organizational wide committees.

The document request list said, “Send your committee’s minutes.” This organization had historically spent committee minutes for every single one of those advisory committees and board committees, whether they were finance related or not. So, we’re talking about over the course of a year, a few hundred sets of minutes that are being spent. You’ve talked to the audit team. They’re not looking at all of those. A lot of them aren’t relevant, but no one had ever said, hey, you don’t need to send all of those. That took you a long time to gather and we don’t really need them. Sometimes, just being willing to ask that question and say, do I really need this? How are you going to use this? Help me understand. I think it can really be fruitful and help that process go smoother.

Dolph Goldenburg: That’s a really good example and a really good point as well. One of the other red flags that I kind of feel like maybe finance committee should be looking out for is if there are deficiencies or weaknesses in the audit and they keep seeing the same deficiencies and weaknesses year after year after year, even though management says, “Okay, here’s how we’re going to fix them in the coming year,” and two years later it’s still a deficiency or still a weakness.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Exactly. I think those management letters can be some of the most useful and telling documents and pieces of information, and it surprises me every single time when we’ll ask a client about it, they’ll say, “Oh yeah, we maybe have that. I’ll see if I can dig it up. I can’t remember what was in it.” [They’re] clearly not using that as a tool, and I would agree and a lot of times we will see, you know, for a lot of small and midsize nonprofits like those who listened to this podcast, probably the number one thing you see segregation of duties. Even sometimes the auditors will say, “Well, you’re just a smaller organization. You only have one person in finance. There may not be a way around [inaudible].” She liked to push people to think a little more creatively about who you can involve in how and how you can mitigate some segregation of duties issues because there are ways around it, but it’s just a little bit more creative, and it does force people outside of finance to be more involved in that process.

Dolph Goldenburg: I could not agree more. When my first executive director job was at a smaller organization, when I started, it was about a quarter million dollars. By the time I left, it was about a million dollars, but when we were a quarter-million-dollar organization, we just did not have the staff for segregation of duties. Our treasurer kind of stepped in and did some of that. Obviously, the treasure is a board member, but at every finance committee meeting, I would bring a copy of the most recent checking account statement and the treasurer would review each page and initial it. If there were issues, he would ask the question, “Well, can you explain to me how this check went through without a signature?”

I agree with you. I think even if you’re a smaller organization, you’ve got to have a treasurer on your board and they can help with segregation of duties.

The other thing I think about that management letter is if you are management, if you’re the executive director or the finance officer in the finance office, I think it’s really important that you sit down with the finance committee and share this with the board as well and you say, “Okay, the auditor points out 12 things that we need to be working on. We can’t get all 12 done this year. So, in the coming year, which four are most important and which two might come after that, if we’ve got time and the bandwidth to do it.”

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah, that’s. I think that’s a great way to address it. I always really liked to see that when there’s a management letter that management has a chance to review that before it goes to the board or the committee. I really like it when organizations put forward their response to the management letter, which does exactly that, lays out what was stated. Here might be some of the reasons why because think context is important. Here’s what we’re going to do about it. I agree that when we see organizations that say, “You know, here are the 14 things that were in the management letter, and we’re going to address all of them in the first quarter,” that’s just not realistic. That’s more stressful for everyone. Working together between the finance committee and management to come up with what’s realistic, what do we need to implement this? Sometimes, that means we need more capacity. We need outside help, and that usually has budgetary implications. And so getting everyone on the same page with this is a priority, and here are the resources we’re going to set aside to do. It is a really critical piece to getting rid of those comments going forward and having a stronger finance function.

Federal funding agencies can be great allies. Ask for help up front.

Dolph Goldenburg: Kelsey, I could not agree with you more and I have to share with you as an executive director, I always made a point of reading the management letter before I went to the finance committee. And I would say at least every other year, so one out of two times, I would have to go back to the auditor and say and tell the auditor, “You indicated this in the management letter and that’s not correct and here’s why. I need you to change that because this is what we’re actually doing. If it was miscommunicated to you or you misunderstood, we need to clear that up now.”

Kelsey Vatsaas: Yeah, it’s a great example, Dolph. Yeah. I do some outsource CFO work with teams here from CLA and recently one of our small clients who before we came in and did their outsourced accounting, always got that segregation of duties management comment. And when we got the draft audit this year, sure enough, same old language was in there in the management letter. We pushed back and said, “This is part of the reason we’re here. We have three different people. We’re all fractional, but we have this all design so that we do have good internal in segregation of duties.” Their response was, “Oh yeah, we had just copied and pasted that from last year.” So, I think it’s really important to push back on those things and to make sure we’re being mindful of it because otherwise, that would have gone to the boar, and their question would have been, well, why are we paying you guys to do this? We thought you were taking responsibility for getting rid of that.

Dolph Goldenburg: Kelsey, we are quickly running out of time, and I cannot close out our conversation without asking you the Off-the-Map question.

Kelsey Vatsaas: All right.

Dolph Goldenburg: I love talking about finance, but this question has absolutely nothing to do with finance, but it may have something to do with dysfunction, and I hope I don’t offend you when I say that. I understand that on your wedding day now, not wedding week, but on your wedding day, you did something highly unusual for a bride and groom to do. Can you tell us more?

Kelsey Vatsaas: You Bet. It’s one of my favorite stories. So, I am originally from Nebraska. I live in Minnesota now. As someone who grows up in Nebraska, there’s really one sports team to cheer for, and that’s been Nebraska Huskers football team. I’m a die-hard fan. When I met my husband here in Minnesota, he’s lived here his whole life. He’s a die-hard Minnesota Gophers fan. When we were dating, we always went to the annual Minnesota versus Nebraska game. It was shortly after Minnesota and Nebraska were both part of the Big 10. We played each other every year. When he proposed, he said, “I hope I’m not too presumptuous here, but I found a date, and the church is available. It happens to be the date of the Minnesota Nebraska football game, and it is here in Minnesota. So, if you want to, I thought that could be fun.” And so we planned our whole wedding around this football game. And one of the more interesting things from a Type A logistical person like myself was that year was the first year, the Big 10 didn’t set game time until the week before. And so we’re trying to plan this whole wedding around this game and we didn’t know if this was going to be an 11:00 AM game or a 2:30 game or a 7:00 PM game. Our wedding invites actually state, “If the game time is this, that’s the itinerary.” It was such a fun day. Our whole wedding party went to the game. We actually were able to get special passes for each of our dads, and my husband and I had to go down on the field in our whole getup. So, we have some awesome pictures of us down on the field. Sadly, to say, for me, Nebraska lost to Minnesota that game for the first time in 63 years. So, my husband will say it was the best day of his life and the best day of his life.

Dolph Goldenburg: That is an awesome, awesome story. I have one follow up question. Since you did not know what time the wedding would start, did you book your wedding venue for the entire day?

Kelsey Vatsaas: It’s a great question. We originally had the venue all day, and part of the reason we ended up getting on-field passes was the venue was the hotel was next to the stadium. The hotel decided a few weeks before our wedding that they were going to host the tailgate the morning of the football game in our room. So, we could no longer set up or do you anything like that. They actually, to help compensate for that, they were able to negotiate, [inaudible] on-field passes. So, we ended up only having the room for a part of the day, which made logistics a little tricky, but it did allow us to get on the field and get these amazing pictures for memories for years to come.

Dolph Goldenburg: That’s incredible. I have a feeling that when you are done with finance and accounting, you’re going to have a second act as a wedding planner because only a professional wedding planner could have pulled that off.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Well, I appreciate it. Looking back now at all my spreadsheets and planning. As an accountant by trade, I keep a lot of spreadsheets and uh, there were a lot of backup versions of what we would do, but it all worked out okay.

Dolph Goldenburg: That’s incredible. Well, Kelsey, thank you so much for talking with me today about finance department dysfunction. I know that you have given our listeners some food for thought and listeners, you can find Kelsie at Clifton Larson Allen, which is at  We will also link to Kelsey’s excellent blog post in the show notes, but that URL is far, far too long for me to be able to read out here. Now, Kelsey has also generously offered our listeners a free, that’s right, a no-cost initial consultation if they are considering a finance department assessment. Do not, dear listeners, pass up this opportunity to talk to an expert if only to get a sense of where your organization is now.

Hey, Kelsey. Thanks again. I really enjoyed this conversation today.

Kelsey Vatsaas: Thank you so much stuff, and I have to say, I scrolled through all of your past podcasts and there were very few about finance, so I’m excited to be one of the first ones to talk about the exciting world of nonprofit finance on your great podcast.

Dolph Goldenburg: You are right. I think the last time we had someone on to talk about finance was early maybe two years ago, and it was about automatic revocation of 501c3 status.

Kelsey Vatsaas: I’m glad to be here to talk about accounting and finance with all of your listeners today.

Dolph Goldenburg: Thanks again.

If you have been too busy circulating a check requisition, and you missed Kelsey’s contact information, may I suggest that you get it at our website, Don’t forget to take advantage of Kelsey’s free consultation. It is an incredible offer, and really, I just cannot say enough, try to take her up on it.

It was great fun to talk to Kelsey today about the weirdness that can creep into the everyday functioning of finance departments. As we all know though, finance departments are not the only areas of an organization prone to weirdness and sometimes some instability. Any part of a nonprofit can go off the rails if strategic planning has not been done well and is not being implemented well. At the top of the episode, I mentioned our new strategic planning facilitator cohort group. If you think this might be the strategic planning solution your nonprofit is looking for, be certain to check out the website at today. If you register by February 15th, you’ll receive a $1,000 discount off-the-rack rate, and I don’t want you to miss out on this opportunity. Please remember that you cannot actually sign up with the website. Participating in the cohort group requires that you and I have a conversation about the process because we only want to admit organizations that we believe can succeed with this cohort group. That is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.

(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.



Got an Idea for a Topic?

Recommend it to us!

    Please prove you are human by selecting the car.

    How are we doing?

    Tell us your thoughts!

      Please prove you are human by selecting the key.