A Treasurer is typically the officer assigned the primary responsibility of overseeing the management and reporting of an organization’s finances. The Treasurer may have many important duties specific to its role, including:

  • Bank account maintenance – Selecting a bank, signing checks, and investing excess funds wisely
  • Financial transaction oversight – Being knowledgeable about who has access to the organization’s funds, and any outstanding bills or debts owed, as well as developing systems for keeping cash flow manageable
  • Budgets – Developing the annual budget as well as comparing the actual revenues and expenses incurred against the budget
  • Financial Policies – Overseeing the development and observation of the organization's financial policies
  • Reports – Keeping the board regularly informed of key financial events, trends, concerns, and assessment of fiscal health in addition to completing required financial reporting forms in a timely fashion and making these forms available to the board
  • Finance Committee (if applicable) – Serving as Chair of the Finance Committee

The Treasurer is largely influential in proper financial management and thus, also greatly affects the public’s perception, trust, and assurance in the organization management. Therefore, organizations should seek desirable qualifications in a Treasurer such as financial literacy, attention to detail, timeliness in completing tasks, neat and accurate record keeping, and a willingness to ask questions.

Perhaps now more than ever with the economic downturn, organizations need to be sure there are open and constant lines of communication between the Treasurer and board of directors about sound financial policies/procedures and budget oversight. As Ret Boney advises in his “Role of boards critical during crisis” article in the Philanthropy Journal, “when increasing demands, driven by foreclosures and job loss, eclipse available resources, it's time for board members to stay calm, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.”

California nonprofits must also be cognizant of California law, which requires nonprofit organizations to have a President, a Secretary, and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Organizations may elect to have both a Treasurer and a CFO, with, for example, a Board member Treasurer operating supplementary to the staff member CFO. In such case, the Board Treasurer's duties and responsibilities may be more focused on broader policies and oversight.  Where an organization has designated the Treasurer title but not a CFO, the Treasurer will typically be considered the CFO.

Ultimately, while financial management is the primary focus of the Treasurer, the entire board shares accountability. As highlighted by the Minnesota Nonprofit Alliance Fund, “the treasurer shouldn’t feel, or be made to feel, that they have sole responsibility for the financial health of the organization. Their role is to make sure that the information is accurate, timely and provided to the board.”

A sample Treasurer job description is available at Adhionline.org, Boardsource.org, and Idealist.org.

Ret Booney’s article, “Role of boards critical during crisis,” is available here.

Minnesota Nonprofit Assistance Fund article, “The Treasurer and Finance Committee – Who to Recruit and How to Use Them,” is available here.

Information about generating financial reports is available in the “A Treasurer’s Report” excerpt from John Paul Dalsimer’s book, Self-Help Accounting: A Guide for the Volunteer Treasurer. (Only the excerpt provided has been reviewed).

More information about the CFO role is available in Russell Romeranz’s article, “Nonprofit CFOs: Visionary Protectors of the Bottom Line, or Myopic Bean Counters?” from The CPA Journal Online.

For a brief overview about the prudential concerns regarding the Treasurer’s involvement on an audit committee based on the California Nonprofit Integrity Act, please read the previous post on “Nonprofit Integrity Act – Audit Committee.” A guide to the Nonprofit Integrity Act is available here.

- Emily Chan