When Michelle Kim agreed to leave her position on the board of the Hemophilia Foundation of Southern California (HFSC; hemosocal.org) to become the nonprofit’s interim executive director, she knew she was starting an adventure. She was not aware, however, that she would find no financial map to guide her.
Fortunately, Jericho Road Pasadena (JRP) volunteer Bret Schaefer led her to short- and long-term success.
“The former executive director left the organization in complete shambles,” recalls Michelle, who had been a corporate lawyer, not a financial expert. She jokes that she was asked to take on the interim director role because she was the only board member unemployed at the time, not because she had any experience running a nonprofit.
“OK, I thought, I’ll do this for a couple of months,” she recalls. That was two years ago, and Michelle is now the permanent executive director.
“When I was asked to put a budget together, it was extremely difficult because I had barely passed my one finance class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!” Michelle laughed. Michelle read about Melanie Goodyear’s work as Jericho Road Pasadena’s director in their undergrad school (Wellesley College) alumni newsletter. “That’s how I found her.”
JRP connected Bret, who was volunteering his time to set small nonprofits on a better financial path. He now serves as Vice-President, Finance for Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles.
“Michelle surprised me with her willingness to take on the job,” Bret recalls. “She also impressed me with her sophistication in dealing with the problems she faced.
“I understand that a lot of nonprofits this size face these same problems: They cannot afford to devote many resources to financial skills, and executive directors are trying to cover five bases at one time,” Bret emphasizes. “Also, if you haven’t hired a financial advisor or an accountant before, you don’t know what questions to ask.”
Bret guided Michelle to those questions and to creating a budget and a viable accounting system—an especially challenging task because Michelle had no financial reporting she could trust.
“He was extremely patient,” she shares. “He would come to our office, and he was so incredibly smart. He helped me to drill down to the nitty gritty. He would question each of my numbers. ‘Why would you think it would be that amount? Why do you think it would not be more?’ He was extremely thorough.”
Besides committing herself to building an accurate financial system for HFSC—one the largest hemophilia organizations in the country—Michelle has added incentive for her work because her oldest son has hemophilia.
Although modern science has given hemophiliacs the expectation of a normal life expectancy, her son’s medicine costs approximately $100,000 per month. Interestingly, of the 20,000 Americans who suffer from hemophilia, approximately 20 percent live in California.
Bret also helped Michelle understand her new relationship with her board.
“I had that board-member mentality, yet suddenly I had become staff,” she explains. “I felt that I had to share every nitty-gritty detail with the board. Bret advised me on how to get our goals met without that level of detail, because a board is not there day-to-day.”
“The budget we submitted for 2016 was excellent,” Michelle says proudly. “We actually exceeded our goal. We had positive net income. Now I’m working on the 2017 budget, and it is so much easier to put together!”
JRP volunteer Ned J Racine is a freelance writer with a Masters in Playwriting from UCLA. But to make actual money, he directs community relations for Metro’s Purple Line extension.