Q&A with BDO FMA Managing Director Dana Britto: Building Financial Capacity Post-Pandemic August 16, 2021

Dana Britto BDO FMADana Britto is a Managing Director for BDO FMA (formerly Fiscal Management Associates), a national nonprofit advisory practice of BDO FMA that helps foundations and nonprofits of all kinds strengthen their fiscal operations and financial management capacity. Britto leads BDO FMA’s Midwest team, manages key initiatives in the region, and leads both coaching and in-depth client engagements.  

Over the past four years, she has played an instrumental role in two IFF-administered programs – Stronger Nonprofits Initiative and the Arts and Culture Loan Fund – while also providing customized, one-on-one coaching and technical assistance to leaders from dozens of nonprofits and helping nonprofits in the region successfully access loans.  

As the pandemic evolves, IFF sat down with Britto to talk about what the past 18 months have revealed about nonprofit financial management, the outlook for the sector moving forward, and how nonprofit leaders can chart a sustainable and equitable path for their organizations in a post-pandemic environment.  

In a Nutshell

What: Q&A with Dana Britto, Managing Director for BDO FMA, a national consulting firm that helps foundations and nonprofits strengthen their fiscal operations and financial management capacity, about the financial and operational challenges facing nonprofits coming out of the pandemic and how they can best respond to them

Sector: All

Location: Chicago, IL

IFF: The last time we talked, we asked how organizations can plan in the midst of constant change and uncertainty. Has your response changed at all because of the pandemic?  

Britto: Before the pandemic, organizations were typically in the practice of developing a budget, getting it passed by the board of directors, monitoring progress against the budget on a monthly or quarterly basis, and making course corrections as needed. The pandemic blew up that framework, particularly in the early days of the shutdown. Organizations needed to update their financial picture on a weekly and sometimes daily basis because of new guidance and restrictions. Though the need to do so was inevitable given the circumstances, that’s not ideal.  

Nonprofit leaders should be revisiting their budgets on a regular cadence, but they should approach the exercise through a lens that considers potential scenarios and accounts for the biggest risks to the overall budget, to programs, and to service delivery. Through iterative scenario planning, they can assess potential financial impacts and consider how to mitigate those impacts long before critical decisions need to be made.

Through iterative scenario planning, [nonprofit leaders] can assess potential financial impacts and consider how to mitigate those impacts long before critical decisions need to be made.

There’s quite a bit of ambiguity about what the world will look like in the next 6-12 months. It may not feel as intense and time crunched as it did a year ago, but there’s still a lot to figure out. By applying a contingency or scenario planning lens and identifying the biggest risks to the organization ahead of time, there’s an opportunity to plan accordingly and lay the groundwork for informed, strategic decisions that are less influenced by the pressure of the moment.

IFF: What kinds of new challenges do you anticipate nonprofits will face in building financial capacity coming out of the pandemic?  

Britto: There have been all kinds of shifts in funding priorities and business models that were necessitated by the pandemic, and organizations now need to determine which changes are likely to be permanent and what that means for the future. Between the Paycheck Protection Program and other rapid response funding programs, there was a lot of money tied to providing immediate support in the wake of the pandemic that nonprofits can’t necessarily rely on in future years. What does that do when you eliminate that funding from longer-term projections? There are almost certainly going to be gaps. Based on an organization’s business model, will they be able to bridge those gaps? Are the gaps even something that the organization should try to fill?  

There are also operational considerations that impact financial capacity. The world had to go remote in a matter of weeks, if not days. That required technology to be leveraged in a way that forced organizations to rely less on paper-based systems for financial management. Ideally, that will be a change that persists beyond the pandemic, because digital tools are often more efficient. But it requires nonprofit leaders to determine how to maintain systems long-term that were likely adopted on an ad hoc basis. 

How nonprofits deliver their services moving forward will also impact their ability to build financial capacity. In the arts sector, for example, organizations that wouldn’t have considered providing their programming online before the pandemic may have discovered that doing so made their organization far more accessible to those they hope to reach. Now that opportunities for in-person programming are increasingly available, does returning to the previous status quo make sense?    

What was relevant before the pandemic may not matter anymore. Conversely, a temporary stopgap developed in the past year may not make sense in a post-pandemic environment. The biggest challenge in answering these questions is making space to consider them holistically, which all nonprofits should be doing right now.    

What was relevant before the pandemic may not matter anymore. Conversely, a temporary stopgap developed in the past year may not make sense in a post-pandemic environment. The biggest challenge in answering these questions is making space to consider them holistically, which all nonprofits should be doing right now.


Based on what we’re seeing with our clients, the sector will need to put an intense focus on culture and recognize that long-time employees are transitioning out of organizations in historic numbers. From a cultural perspective, now is the moment for organizations to reexamine and solidify organizational values and reassess the extent to which organizational practices and norms reflect these values. From an operations perspective, it will be critical for organizations to consider succession planning, documentation of critical policies and procedures, and regular monitoring of staff capacity to ensure necessary coverage while avoiding employee burnout.   

IFF: The nonprofit sector’s focus on equity may not be a direct result of the pandemic, but it has certainly been amplified in the past 18 months. How can nonprofits advance equity through their financial practices and operational policies?  

Britto: Access to resources is a major focus in many organizations as part of their equity work, but there’s no question that a true commitment to equity requires an examination of financial practices and operations within organizations.  

What perspectives are you bringing to the table when you build a budget? Is budgeting something that’s done in a silo by the finance director, or is it an inclusive process that represents a cross section of expertise, experience, and functions within the organization? If your organization expects staff to make organizational purchases with personal credit cards and reimburses them later, what kind of financial burden does that place on employees? Do you have the necessary systems in place to reimburse employees and vendors in a timely way? In communicating your financial position to organizational stakeholders, who’s doing the storytelling? Ideally, program staff have an opportunity to highlight and describe how the work that they’re doing on the ground is informing the way that the numbers look.  

Another area to focus on is hiring. Be really thoughtful about the qualifications necessary for the job. Are you recruiting employees with diverse personal and professional backgrounds? Could your current processes be preventing the organization from finding candidates who are better suited for your culture, your community, and the work that you do?  

Who you do business with also matters. If you’re spending money on vendors, you have the power to choose who to work with. Are your current providers local businesses or other minority-owned or woman-owned enterprises? 

I’m just scratching the surface here, but the point is that there are a multitude of ways outside of program design that organizations can implement policies and practices that advance equity. Determining what that looks like at individual organizations requires a really hard look at the status quo and an honest assessment of whether there are adjustments or changes that can be made to increase equity. 

IFF: If you had to give one piece of advice right now to a nonprofit leader focused on increasing their organization’s financial resilience, what would it be?  

Britto: For a nonprofit leader, there’s probably no piece of advice that’s more relevant right now than to simply take a moment to pause and prioritize self-care. It may sound hokey, but it’s counterproductive to chug along normally given the emotional and physical burden of the past year and a half. Making space for personal reflection and reflection among leadership teams is critical. 

For a nonprofit leader, there’s probably no piece of advice that’s more relevant right now than to simply taka moment to pause and prioritize self-care.

I’d also encourage any nonprofit leader to leverage partnerships and stakeholders to the greatest extent possible. Chances are, if you have an issue or are experiencing challenges, someone in your network or someone at a similar organization is going through the same thing. That’s good practice any time, but it’s especially important now. You need to be able to communicate the challenges you’re facing to a variety of people, but especially to funders. Talking through the challenges with others in the space will help crystallize the key messages that need to be conveyed.  

Funders want to hear from you; that’s the message that we’ve heard across the board in the work that we’re doing at BDO FMA. Leaning into and leveraging those relationships and communicating the situation you’re facing is the only way to make sure that you’re actually getting the support that you need. 

IFF: Any final thoughts?  

Britto: The pandemic has been unique and trying for everyone, but it’s also been inspirational to see the response of the nonprofit sector. We all need a moment to sit back, understand, and process what happened so that we can use that to help inform strategies for the future. I don’t think any organization should feel pressure or the need to necessarily go back to exactly how things were before March 2020. Maybe that’s the best path forward, but there should at least be an opportunity to reimagine a new normal for the organization before any long-term decisions are made. 

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