Business Office Basics: New Trustee Orientation by the CFO

To lay the foundation for a strong relationship, consider how to present key points at the appropriate level.

Sep 14, 2022  |  By Jim Pugh

Stock image of black business man at table

Former long-time business officer, recent interim CFO, and founding member of NBOA Jim Pugh shares wisdom he has collected in his decades of service to independent schools. This is the second article in the series. The first is “ Business Office Basics: Entry Interviews.”

New trustees are often invited to spend a few hours at the school in advance of their first board meeting. The purpose is to meet with the head of school and the board president to discuss the board’s current business and how the board functions. In many cases, this time includes meetings with senior members of the administration, such as the director of advancement and the CFO. Each of these meetings is typically a half hour in length.

The meetings serve several purposes. They help to bring new trustees up to speed for their first board meeting. Trustees begin to learn the issues, school jargon, important numbers and the typical format of reports. They get to meet the administrators who serve as liaisons with board committees. They get a feel for how the administrative team works. The meetings are a low-key setting where the trustees can ask any question, free of judgment.

This Excel file (accessible to NBOA members) is a sample of the type of information the CFO can present to new trustees. It starts with a 30,000-foot view of the school’s assets. Next, it presents the key concepts which guide the school’s financial management (more detail on these key concepts will follow in a forthcoming Business Office Basics article). Eight areas of financial management are covered, which is too much information to present in a half hour.

What you should present first and at later occasions should be tailored to your school’s programs and needs. If your school does not report comparison data from other schools, that section can be scrubbed. If no construction project or capital campaign is underway, you do not need to spend time on those areas. I prefer to hand out this summary on paper. The trustees may take notes and can take it home for later review.

Be sure to leave time for questions. You will learn something about the financial depth of each trustee. 

Be sure to leave time for questions. You will learn something about the financial depth of each trustee. Answers to their answers will show your command of the school’s finances. If you do not know the answer to a question, simply reply: “That’s a good question. I will send you the answer tomorrow.” Column K in the spreadsheet provides space for “Notes to self.” These comments are to prepare your explanations.

Encourage the trustees to contact you if they have questions after they leave the meeting. Their heads will be spinning from all the information they receive during orientation. They may have thoughtful questions for you after 24 or 48 hours.

The orientation meeting is an opportunity to establish a positive working relationship with the new trustees. Prepare for it well. The information sheet can be a good place to start. Feel free to adapt and revise the Excel file to best fit your school.


Author

Jim Pugh

Jim Pugh taught history in three independent schools and then served as full-time or interim CFO in ten independent schools. For the 2022-23 school year, he is wrapping up the surveys he conducts for several school associations. He and his wife live in Cornwall, Vermont, with two dogs, two cats, two hayfields, a large vegetable garden, and 18 chickens.

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