Are you ill at ease with the accountants in your organization, whether on your staff, your Board or your volunteer team? It’s easy to feel intimidated by the specialized knowledge, the arcane-sounding vocabulary, and an approach that doesn’t always seem aligned with the ups and downs of nonprofit life.
But believe it or not, accountants have long been compared favourably to breeds of dog.* If you enjoy dogs, you might do much better with the accountants in your life once you figure out which breed of dog they resemble. Like any member of your team, if your accountant receives the care and feeding appropriate to their breed, they will give you many long years of loyal service,
The guide below will help you understand what your accountant needs as well as what you can expect from them. However, please be aware that while the different breeds of accountant have certain characteristics, an individual accountant may only exhibit some of them or may actually act counter to breeding. In that case you must be sensitive to their needs and alter their regimen accordingly.
Description – If your Treasurer is also an auditor with one of the “Big 4” accounting firms, you likely have a Bloodhound. Once a Bloodhound has the scent of an intruder, such as an error in the financial statements or a lapse in the internal control system, not only will they will single-mindedly track down the source, but they will also not rest until the problem has been documented and resolved.
Care and feeding – Bloodhounds need lots of attention in the form of financial information, progress reports, meeting minutes and copies of contracts. They devour documentation insatiably, the more detail the better. In fact, they can feel out of the loop if they do not get a steady diet.
What you can expect – In return for all this information, Bloodhounds will give you useful analysis. By nature conservative and sceptical, they will have practical feedback and are excellent at finding errors, both substantive and typographical. If you want to be sure that someone has actually read the contract before it is signed, give it to a Bloodhound.
Caution – There are two features of this breed to watch out for: they tend to be introverted and they have trouble with any numbers that cannot be absolutely verified. These traits lead them to be uncomfortable giving speeches or in working with projections, particularly fundraising projections. If you need them to work in these areas, make sure they have someone close by with lots of supporting detail.
Description – If the Chair of your Finance Committee is also the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a large public company, you probably have a German Shepherd. Sharp-featured and professional-looking, this accountant is bred for leadership. Known for their vision and tough negotiation skills, Shepherds are comfortable on their feet, whether in front of donors or government regulators. Watch out though, this is one breed whose bite is worse than their bark.
Care and feeding – Shepherds don’t need a lot of feeding. They are used to winging it. A few notes before a presentation should suffice.
What you can expect – Shepherds look sharp. Dressed casually or in a suit, they radiate command and control. They are at ease with other Board members and members of the press. If your organization has faced financial issues or a loss of integrity, you need a Shepherd at the helm.
caution – You can’t muzzle a Shepherd, nor do they take well to a leash, so you need to have them on board from the beginning.
Jack Russell Terrier
Description – If you have a finance volunteer who also works as a consultant or who has their own business, you may be looking at a Jack Russell Terrier. Filled with boundless energy, Jack Russells seem to be everywhere at once. They are quick to volunteer, but they are often late coming to meetings as well as having to leave early to get to other commitments. Sharp-witted and intelligent, this breed instinctively understands the business side of charities.
Care and feeding – Jack Russells like facts and operational details. They don’t care so much about form. They want something substantive that they can really stick their teeth into. If you want their attention, don’t talk about financial statements. Instead say, “Cash flow.” They will come running.
What you can expect – This breed lives in the future. If you want a budget that reflects the business side of your organization or financial statements translated into language that make sense to business people, get a Jack Russell. Despite their speed, they are practical and detail oriented, often passionate about what they do.
Caution - Like the Bloodhound, once a terrier gets their teeth into something, it can be very difficult to get them to let go. Unlike the Bloodhound, they may be dismissive of any details or issues they do not consider operationally important.
Description – There was a time when every fire station had a Dalmatian for luck, and that is how you’ll feel if you have an accountant who has made their career in the not-for-profit sector. They know their way around the station. They are used to the clang of the alarm and the ins and outs of the firefighters. Things that would set other dogs on edge are routine for Dalmatians. They instinctively understand where they are needed, so they never get underfoot.
Care and feeding – Because they fit in so well, it’s easy to take the Dalmatian for granted, so consider stretching their abilities occasionally with a new trick or challenge. They are generally a quiet breed, but if you take the time to interest them in the game, you’ll find them a great team player.
What you can expect – Dalmatians like routine, so you can expect consistent, loyal service.
Caution – Dalmatians may have trouble adapting to new situations, so give them lots of warning if things are about to change.
Description – When your accountant isn’t really an accountant at all, if they were voluntold to take on the position, or if they weren’t present at the meeting when they were nominated (so they couldn’t say no), then you probably have a Heinz 57 dog, also known as a mutt. Don’t despair! Mutts can be a lot of fun.
Care and feeding – Heinz 57s need lots of support and training. Find them seminars and books. The role of watchdog can be lonely and overwhelming, so check in with them often. The key challenge is to figure out what excites them. What part of the game is the most fun for them? When you can engage them in an area they love, they will help you with the rest.
What you can expect – Keep your expectations low and leave room for mistakes. Never scold a mutt or you will break their spirit. Instead, work hard to pair them with another breed for dog-on-dog coaching.
Caution – Of any of the breeds, this is the one where you can make the most difference. There is a growing shortage of accountants in the nonprofit world, so the more Heinz 57s you can attract, the better.
*In 1896, the British Court of Appeal concluded that the accountant is a watchdog, not a bloodhound, to which an overworked British accountant famously replied that the accountant is “a watchdog, not a bloody greyhound.”For a more comprehensive look at the issue of how to give your stakeholders what they want, join us for a free lunch and learn webinar at http://EnergizedAccounting.ca. Bill Kennedy, CPA CA is a Certified Professional Jack Russell who works as a consultant helping charities get what they need from their systems and people. Follow Bill @Energized