Best Non-Profit CFOs In 2020

Honoring some of the best finance chiefs in the game. Jack McCullough, President & Founder, CFO Leadership Council weighs in.  Jack is a Senior Contributor to Forbes CFO Network.  His recent interviews are below.

Today I conclude my series honoring the top CFOs of 2020 with two leaders from the non-profit sector. 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges for CFOs and their teams, and many of the world’s non-profits proved their resilience at a time when the world most needed them. Today I will recognize Pat Keel, the CFO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (St. Jude) and Debra Shoaf, the CFO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank (AFB).

Pat Keel, CFO, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

St. Jude is a pediatric treatment and research facility focused on children’s catastrophic diseases.  The hospital was founded in 1962 by iconic entertainer Danny Thomas and has been performing daily miracles for almost six decades. Pat is a healthcare industry veteran who has been with St. Jude since 2016.

As CFO of St Jude, what was the biggest challenge you faced in 2020 and how did you overcome it?

I would have to say coordinating the institution’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It not only had a significant impact on the health care operations, but also the research operations. We were also in the fifth year of a very aggressive six-year strategic plan to accelerate progress in research and treatment of childhood cancer and other deadly diseases when it hit.

We had all the challenges that other health care providers faced, such as canceling appointments for elective and research patients, obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and moving a significant portion of our workforce remote overnight. We quickly zoned our campus so that only people who needed access to the clinical areas were allowed in those areas. We were able to obtain sufficient PPE;  however, since it wasn’t from a traditional vendor, we also had it independently to ensure it was effective. We also established weekly COVID tests for anyone on campus.

In addition to the challenges with COVID and providing safe care to our patients, we had to shut down our research labs, move nonessential personnel to work remotely and find safe ways to continue the major construction on campus. We’ve since reopened the research labs in a manner that is safe for the staff. There are still a lot of changes occurring, but we have a structure and communication process that keeps employees informed and reduces the stress and chaos as much as possible.

St. Jude continued to do remarkable work during the most challenging of circumstances. How were you so successful during the crisis?

Virtually every area of the institution was involved in safeguarding the campus from the threat of COVID-19 from the start. Working together, we created one of the safest harbors against COVID-19 in the country.

Protection measures include a first-of-its-kind COVID-19 testing program for employees as well as patients and their families; campus zoning; reduced personnel and visitors’ access; and heightened infection control procedures.

We did experience many of the same challenges as other health care providers related to locating PPE for our staff, moving staff to work remotely where possible and keeping our staff and patients safe. However, our patient number is predictable, and we did not experience the challenges or magnitude of the challenges as those of acute care providers. Because we don’t have some of the pressures that come from an ER and full-service hospital, we had the ability to focus on our mission.

We also had the additional challenge of trying to initially close our research labs and then bring them back up without significantly losing ground in the research. Many researchers were able to focus on portions of their research that could be performed remotely.

St. Jude is a very different model with a unique mission. Although we experienced significant challenges, this uniqueness has allowed us to continue to do remarkable work during these challenging times. The St. Jude mission—advance cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment—resonates with many, and our donors have continued to support us even during these difficult times. Their generosity allows us to continue our focus.

In times of crisis people turn to CFOs for the unvarnished truth. How did you inspire confidence in your team, your CEO, your fellow executives, and board, as well as the community at large?

During times of crisis people turn to their “leaders” for the unvarnished truth and encouragement. The leaders of St. Jude are a very cohesive team of which I have the privilege of being a member.  Dr. James Downing, St. Jude president and CEO, requires a high level of performance and transparency in the organization. During the pandemic, my role was focused on ensuring we have adequate and appropriate PPE, moving a large group of people to work remotely and ensuring the campus was secure, appropriately cleaned and functioning. We did initiate an incident command center— just like we would during any disaster. This allowed leadership across departments and disciplines to be in one room. This led to more efficient communication and problem solving. There was regular organization-wide communication on challenges we were facing and how we were responding to the challenges. For a number of months, we met daily and held organization leadership calls to debrief and communicate changes, which were occurring frequently.

During a times of crisis, people want their fears acknowledged to know they are safe. The leadership team of St. Jude kept this focus at the center of our work. We provided outlets for employees to ask questions or express concerns, we communicated in a large variety of formats, we provided education, and we maintained the focus on the missions, patients and their families. We also took the time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of those providing care during the pandemic. Because we are a pediatric research hospital and care for some of the sickest children, we have developed a very strong resilience program, which assists our caregivers in times of stress and need. This has been very helpful, especially for the front-line care team.

Your team was undoubtedly in crisis at work and home at the start of the pandemic. How did you keep them productive and focused on the mission while enabling them to face unprecedented non-work challenges?

One of the most special characteristics of St. Jude is every single person is focused on the mission. Our founder specifically established the St. Jude model so that everyone comes into contact with kids and their families during their day at work. This reinforces the mission for us all daily. The pandemic has changed this culture, for now. However, the organization has been outstanding in identifying virtual ways to keep everyone productive and connected to the mission. Dr. Downing sends out weekly communications, holds virtual town halls, and we have a central email for staff to use when they have questions. We also used an internal social media platform called “Yammer” so groups of staff with common interests or in common areas could post, share, and stay in touch virtually. We even held virtual exercise and education through these applications. This is an area where we continue to focus and expand as we still have a significant number of staff off-site.

James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and chief executive officer share his observations on Pat:

“As we’ve expanded clinical, scientific, and administrative operations in Memphis and around the globe, Pat has been a trusted voice, shepherding the institution during a time of unprecedented growth. With Pat’s guidance during the past six years, we’ve increased the number of cancer patients accepted for treatment; hired 28% more faculty and 25% more staff; embarked on several large-scale construction projects; and committed more than $100 million to improving childhood cancer survival rates worldwide. These strategic efforts are accelerating progress toward curing pediatric cancer and other life-threatening diseases on an international scale. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Pat rose to the challenge again. Her expertise has been invaluable to ensuring that institutional operations continue, and supply chain needs are met. We are grateful for her leadership.”

 

Debra Shoaf, CFO, Atlanta Food Bank

In 2020, the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) distributed almost 70 million meals to more than one million people in the Atlanta area, making it one of the biggest food banks in the world. Debra Shoaf has served as its CFO since 2014, though nothing could have prepared her for the challenges of 2020.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in 2020?

The Food Bank went through several significant changes and challenges this year. I’ve been the internal lead on property acquisition, rezoning, financing, and construction of a new food bank facility since 2016, and we finally completed the process at the end of February 2020. We completed the sale of the buildings at our former campus and moved during the first weekend of March. Our Certificate of Occupancy allowed us to begin operations in the new building as of March 9th, and only 48 hours later, we had to begin an operational pivot to prepare for pandemic response. At the same time, we were working to exit our prior facilities and complete mission critical punch list items that would allow us to scale up to meet an exploding number of assistance requests. In October alone, we distributed over 12 million pounds of inventory. This would have been an annual distribution level not so many years ago, and it represents a 100% increase in our average monthly distribution immediately preceding the move.

The ACFB thrived under the harshest circumstances of our lifetimes. How have you been so successful?

We have an amazing team of Food Bankers! Our executive team does a great job of looking ahead for possible challenges so we can anticipate responses. Each team member has a “particular set of skills” that allows us to rise to any challenge we’ve encountered to date, and we push each other to think strategically and creatively. Our Food Bank teams in the office and on the front lines are dedicated and motivated by our mission to be sure that people won’t go hungry.

How do you remain focused on taking care of your fellow citizens while at the same time ensuring that the ACFB is financially viable? 

The philanthropic response since the pandemic onset has been amazing and humbling. It allowed us to significantly increase our levels of purchased food to meet the needs of our communities when donated food became less available. That said, we anticipate that the increased level of need will continue for several years. We’re working now on long-term financial projections to be sure that our current level of response is sustainable without a reduction of services in the future.

How did you inspire confidence in your team, your fellow executives, and the greater community during this crisis?

I have a saying that I’ve used throughout the last several years: “Nerves of steel.” Showing confidence and tenacity in the face of long odds can inspire confidence. Transparency about admitting mistakes often makes others more willing to admit their own so we can work together to find solutions. And one of my primary coping skills is humor; if I can make people laugh, it lightens the load while we carry it together.

Kyle Waide, President and CEO of Atlanta Community Food Bank shared the following observations on Debra:

“In her role as CFO, Debra secured $46 million in New Markets Tax Credit funding, one of the largest NMTC deals in food banking history. This extraordinary level of funding empowered the Atlanta Community Food Bank to build a new, state-of-the-art 345,000-square-foot headquarters and distribution center, dramatically expanding the Food Bank’s capacity to serve food insecure families across north Georgia. We completed this project and moved into the new building just in time to respond to the unprecedented hunger crisis in our community created by the coronavirus pandemic. We are now providing 70% more food than we did prior to the pandemic, a volume of service unimaginable in our old building. Debra’s imagination, grit and work ethic made it all possible. She is often described as an ‘extraordinary, entrepreneurial, creative, resourceful, and driven leader’ by her colleagues and I couldn’t agree more. She is an incredible asset to the Food Bank, and we are lucky to have her on our team.”

 

St. Jude and the Atlanta Food Bank have provided incredible comfort and support to their communities during the pandemic. It is impossible to imagine where we would be without them and similar organizations throughout the world. The CFOs of these organizations have played a pivotal role in ensuring that their missions are fulfilled.

 

About Jack McCullough

Jack McCullough is a recognized thought leader in the field of financial leadership, with a career that has included CFO positions at 26 companies. He founded the CFO Leadership Council, a global organization dedicated to empowering senior financial executives through innovative professional development programs and peer networking. His other accomplishments include chairing the MIT Sloan CFO Summit, and creating the vision behind CFO Week, a one-of-a-kind learning and networking experience jointly executed by the CFO Leadership Council and MIT Sloan. He is a contributor to Forbes.com, where he writes for the CFO Network on challenges and opportunities facing financial leaders.  He is an entertaining and insightful public speaker, and has spoken to thousands of CFOs, and is frequently contacted by members of the media who appreciate his candor, insight and wit.

 

Engage with Jack McCullough further at https://cfoleadershipcouncil.com/jackmccullough/

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