The Green Web of cooperation: How one CFO serves four East End nonprofits
April 29, 2012 7:15 PM
Kevin Gieder is the chief financial officer at the Environmental Finance Collaborative. "They've let me drive the bus from a workload perspective."
By Joyce Gannon Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kevin Gieder is on the payroll at Tree Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that restores and maintains trees throughout the city.
But his office is at GTECH Strategies, a nonprofit that helps neighborhoods craft sustainable community development projects.
When he needs to check in with his supervisor, Mr. Gieder gets in touch with the boss at Construction Junction, a nonprofit that promotes reusable building materials.
Such is the working routine of a shared chief financial officer -- the job Mr. Gieder does for four nonprofits -- all with an environmental mission. The fourth is Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, which works to improve the urban area through which the stream flows.
In a cooperative effort targeted to save money and boost efficiency, the four nonprofits came together as the Environmental Finance Collaborative and in December hired Mr. Gieder as CFO.
The concept of sharing his services emerged through a pilot program funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation and facilitated by nonprofit consulting firm Dewey & Kaye. The foundation awarded $160,000 to fund the first phase of the program, said Kate Sphar, a senior consultant at Dewey & Kaye.
When that funding runs out in December, Mr. Gieder said, the collaborative will request additional money to extend the program.
A former accounting manager at H.J. Heinz Co., Mr. Gieder, 41, spent a decade working for the food giant, including supervising the implementation of a financial software system Heinz was introducing at its operations around the world.
"That really foreshadowed my move to the environmental collaborative because I was working on how to get organizations around the world to collaborate," he said.
His new job doesn't have nearly the same geographic challenges.
All four nonprofits in the collaborative are based in the city's East End -- one of the factors that made them good candidates to share a financial executive, said Brenda Smith, executive director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.
All of them knew each other informally when they met in late 2009 to talk about ways to collaborate and determined that a shared financial officer held the most promise for improving all their performances, she said.
Dewey & Kaye initially tapped eight nonprofits to discuss participating in the pilot but decided four groups "would be more optimal for one person to handle," Ms. Sphar said.
Her firm has seen a surge in interest in collaborations among nonprofits since the economic downturn left so many of them strapped for funds and resources.
"We're doing a lot in the areas of mergers and collaborations because these small organizations know they can't necessarily exist on their own in the long term. They're not finding the same levels of support. To join with another group is to cut administrative costs and do their mission better."
For Mr. Gieder, the position has brought his career full circle from his first job at accounting firm S.R. Snodgrass, where he audited nonprofit clients.
"That led me to start volunteering," said the Cranberry native and Penn State University graduate.
He currently serves as vice president of the board of the Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre and formerly served on the board of the Union Project.
Before he left Heinz, he was contemplating what direction he wanted to take his long-term career and felt that the "corporate job with a large company was less of a match for my personal values. I really wanted to take my passion for the nonprofit community and my professional experience and find a role that would make sense for me."
He saw the environmental collaborative position on a job website and responded even as some of his contacts in the nonprofit sector contacted him to urge him to apply.
To help their CFO balance his time equitably, the organizations meet together with Mr. Gieder monthly to share updates and talk about strategic plans.
"I'm able to manage the day-to-day demands on my time fairly easily. If someone needs more of my time, we will address it, but it hasn't happened yet," he said. "They've let me drive the bus from a workload perspective."
His laptop computer also allows him to carry what's essential to all four locations.
"I traveled extensively to Europe for Heinz, so I'm in the mode of being an extremely flexible employee. That's how it kind of works with me."