Getting non-profits back on track with refreshed systems and optimized staff to fulfill their mission.
Jess is an Operational CFO who generates positive change by creating and implementing new financial processes and best practices for non-profit organizations. In addition to assessing and fixing broken systems, he finds, trains and mentors talented staff, empowering them through streamlined work processes and optimized organizations. His devotion to non-profits, enabling altruistic organizations to thrive and do their best work to serve their community, is one built through a lifetime practice of personal and professional involvement in a variety of industries.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, Jess learned and appreciated the value of hard work and the opportunities afforded in the valley if you applied yourself. Jess was the first in his family to go to college and was encouraged to consider college by a kindhearted University rep at Santa Clara University where his father worked as a carpenter. His encouragement inspired the gregarious student-body president and triple sports letterman to apply to college — a decision that helped to change the course of his life.
While his first job after graduating from Santa Clara University as a finance major was an assistant branch manager for Bank of the West, Jess was drawn to a start-up that launched him into a 17 year career working in finance for the insurance industry. He honed his accounting and investment financial skills in the various roles ranging from Accounting and Finance Manger to VP and Assistant Treasurer. He eventually transitioned to the Treasury department with Silicon Valley Bank, the premier bank at that time working with tech companies raising B and C rounds to fund their growth. Jess took a tour of all the branch offices, working with the account managers and bankers to explain how the investment products worked, polishing his sales skills and gaining first-hand knowledge of what clients were seeking. From his contacts and experience at SVB, he was introduced to an optical component company where he landed his first CFO position. They were looking for a CFO that could stretch their money, and Jess had strong operational finance experience. It was a natural fit.
Throughout his career, Jess had volunteered and been involved with a variety of non-profits. He took on treasurer and board appointments of the various organizations that his kids were involved with, and learned the ropes for managing finance for non-profits by doing. For six years, he served as Chairman of the Board of an insurance carrier for non –profits, bridging his professional experience with his volunteerism. Eventually Jess turned his attention to consulting as a CFO and his time spent working with non-profits on one side of the table led him to pursue working as an interim and part-time CFO, joining CFOs2GO in 2007. Since that time he has helped 22 non-profits to fulfill their missions through building strong financials processes and talented, passionate teams.
Jess is a problem-solver – an operational CFO who is brought in by Executive Directors to identify the problem and find an optimal solution to get them back on track. He has a proven process that he takes groups through to identify the problem, a method adapted from his varied experience with start-ups. His ability to turn around chaotic start-up operations has proven valuable with resource-strapped non-profits. Often non-profits are hampered by an individual that serves as an operational bottleneck, which manifests in lack of timely or accurate information, or an unwillingness to provide certain information. Unfortunately, the staff is frequently ill-equipped to identify the problem or to make the necessary and often painful staffing changes. Jess believes that you can’t make change without disrupting the status quo, but as he describes it, “It’s important to shake things up without creating a hurricane”. He leaves his ego at the door when taking on a new client and waits to make recommendations until he’s gathered information and observed the organization in action.
While he often comes in on an interim role, he still views himself as an integral part of the team and works as if an employee of the company. By seeing himself as part of the group, he is able to put himself in their shoes while remaining neutral when making difficult decisions about staffing. With a comprehensive assessment serving as the foundation for change, he is able to make recommendations that recognize the value of previous efforts and to maintain the loyalty and passion that the staff has for the organization while also making tough choices.
Jess is a natural networker. His strong ties and exposure to a variety of people and roles benefits his non-profit clients in more areas than his expertise in accounting and finance. He acquired his sales skills during his time working in insurance and investment industries, and has always had a knack for reading and appreciating people. His skill in streamlining organizations came from an early mentor who taught him to leverage successes from other industries. But it is his gregarious and empathic nature that makes the most impact when he is brought in to turn around floundering organizations. He brings whoever should be at the table into the conversation to get consensus on the solution. Part of this is to ensure that everyone is on board, but it’s also to foster ownership by the team in the final solution.
As a problem-solver, Jess comes in and conducts a thorough assessment and is able to identify areas of inefficiencies or weakness. Since bottlenecks are often one of the main culprits for inefficiencies in non-profits, Jess leads by example and decentralizes the work away from the CFO and onto the capable and too-often untapped support staff. By redesigning processes that empower, Jess ensures that vital information is shared and reported that impact the overall operation.
Jess has played numerous roles with his client organizations. His preferred engagement is serving in the ongoing role of part-time CFO, similar to the one that he has filled for the past 10 years as the part-time CFO for The Family Giving Tree, he enjoys the ongoing interaction and being a part of a group of passionate individuals focused on a mission. He finds equal enjoyment in making an impact as an interim and short-term change agent, turning around a struggling organization and setting it up with talented staff who can take-over after the transition. Primarily Jess is there to mentor and build up the talent. His extensive network provides him with a steady stream of talent to tap for building out organizations that are missing key roles, or to mentor existing talent to maximize the overall team’s potential.
The emphasis on small organizations has allowed him to be more hands-on than most CFOs, and has provided invaluable insights into how things work downstream. He builds strong and lasting relationships with the Executive Director, who is on the front line and reporting to the Board of Directors. He mentors and assists Executive Directors to develop the reports that the Board of Directors is expecting, and works to determine the metrics that they can manage on a day to day basis to understand how operations work, since operations flow into the numbers that they report. The Board of Directors want to see what is driving those numbers and Jess creates efficient systems and processes that allow teams to both manage and report on the operation.
As a small 501c3, we do not have the resources available to have an experienced full-time CFO on staff. Jess has been an outstanding partner in helping us to mature the level of sophistication regarding how we manage our finances as well as invaluable in the day-to-day financial oversight. He is financially savvy and able to distill down complex financial concepts into language that I can both understand and use to effectively manage our organization.
– Debra Levin, EDAC, President and CEO at Center for Health Design
Jess's expertise has been instrumental in helping with priority and otherwise difficult finance tasks. We greatly value his thoroughness and attention to detail.
– Jennifer Cullenbine, Founder, CEO & Queen Elf, The Family Giving Tree
We retained CFOs2GO during a period of transition at The Big Sur Land Trust. They were quick to provide a team to assess our needs, and step in to support both our routine and complex financial needs utilizing our unique non-profit accounting system. CFOs2Go proved to be a reliable resource and allowed us to keep moving forward as an organization while finding new permanent finance staffing.
– William Leahy, Executive Director, Big Sur Land Trust
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- Non-Profit Dashboard 2: Building the Right One August 29, 2013
- Non-Profit Dashboards Part 1: The Role and Reason August 12, 2013
- Non-Profit Workshop January 27, 2016