Editor’s note: This article is part of A Year of Evolution: CFOs on 2021 series featuring insights from finance leaders across industries, and their COVID-19 lessons and 2021 plans. To receive weekly updates on this series, sign up for our CGMA Advantage newsletter.
For not-for-profit organisations, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been a mere disruption but a threat to their existence and their causes. Surveys conducted on more than 1,700 organisations by CAF America, a US-based organisation that assists corporations, foundations, and individuals in raising funds, found that a majority of not-for-profits surveyed have been negatively affected by the dip in donations and almost one-third might shut down if the situation doesn’t improve soon. In Australia, The Guardian reported that charities have been doing more work with much less money. It also reported that the wealth management firm JBWere has estimated that total giving will fall by about 7.1% this year and a further 11.9% in 2021.
Movember — most widely known for its annual fundraising campaign during the month of November where men or “Mo-Bros” grow moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues including men’s mental health, suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer — had a fine run in its financial year that ended in April 2020. Around 400,000 participants registered for its annual campaign in November last year and helped increase its donation revenue to AUD 121.7 million. The Movember campaign brings in the majority of its annual revenue. The organisation typically strives to have its costs minimised and has established a robust digital infrastructure, both of which helped navigate through the crisis. Last financial year, it had retained 13.2% of its funds to cover future campaigns and ensure long-term continuity. Once COVID-19 struck, the organisation tightened this loop further.
FM interviewed Virginie Lafougere, ACMA, CGMA, CPA (Australia), and CFO at Movember, who is in Melbourne, to learn how she steered her department and the organisation towards long-term sustainability.
How did you manage to maintain business continuity when the first wave of the pandemic hit?
Lafougere: We moved our operations to working remotely from March onwards. Thanks to a very good technology set-up, we have been able to make the move to remote working seamlessly. To a large extent, we have been able to continue our work.
It’s been a big year of curveballs and challenges for everyone around the globe. A lot has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased anxiety for many, heightened by the pressures of not only a global health crisis but a social and economic crisis as well. At Movember, this meant that we have been focused on accelerating our delivery of those programmes through which we could support our communities during this time and beyond. For example, we accelerated the delivery of digital mental health tools, including Movember Conversations, to help address and minimise the impact on men.
For the finance team specifically, besides the day-to-day activities, we have been focused on supporting the broader organisation. We have in fact accelerated some of our process improvement work, particularly in our planning and budgeting cycles.
How are you conserving cash? How are you managing costs?
Lafougere: We have taken a very cautious approach to our spending this year. We have also retained a substantially higher proportion of the funds we raised last financial year compared to what we have done in previous years. As a fiscally conservative organisation, we continue to closely monitor the impact of COVID-19 on our organisation during this financial year.
What is your highest priority now?
Lafougere: The world has changed but our goal hasn’t, and that is to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25% and halving the number of deaths from prostate and testicular cancer by 2030. Given the time of the year we are in, our main priority now is the month of Movember, supporting our community’s fundraising efforts so that we can continue our work of raising funds and awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.
With money raised by our community here in Australia, Movember can continue to deliver the kind of programmes, information, and awareness that will help our community weather this storm and beyond, and to keep lifesaving cancer research and trials on track. Movember raises funds in 20 countries globally. Our offices around the globe encompass both fundraising activities and the delivery of our programmes.
What are the biggest threats to your organisation now, and how are you overcoming the threats?
Lafougere: With operations in several countries across three continents, the constant changes from the impact of the pandemic around the globe remain a threat, and this is something we are monitoring closely, as well as the longer-term economic impact of COVID-19 across the countries we operate. We are also carefully managing the impact of COVID-19 on our programmes delivery — for example, some of our programmes are face-to-face, and we are managing the loosening and tightening of restrictions in these locations.
What approach are you taking for budgeting and forecasting for 2021?
Lafougere: 2021 will be no different than previous years in that we will remain focused on ensuring that as much as possible of the funds we raise will be invested in our programmes for men’s health. We will continue with a cost control approach to ensure that our administration and fundraising costs remain as low as possible. Of course, we will also be looking to Movember 2021 and ensure we have invested in the fundraising and marketing tools we need to support our community in their fundraising efforts and make it a successful campaign.
In addition to that, we have taken a quarterly approach to our budgeting this year, as compared to an annual cycle in previous years. This has enabled us to analyse and adapt as the year and the impact of the pandemic have evolved. Given the cycle of our financial year (May to April), we are currently considering what our planning cycle might look like for 2021.
How has the pandemic impacted your finance function's and Movember's digital transformation journey?
Lafougere: We already have a very good digital set-up. As we are an organisation that operates globally, we had the ability to work fully remotely before the start of the pandemic. We had been using Zoom and Slack amongst other tools throughout the organisation, so there was no learning curve in using those.
In finance, our key systems are cloud-based and therefore completely suited to remote work. However, the pandemic has proven that we need to continue to innovate and stay at the forefront of digital and technological advances.
What is the one big reset you see happening post COVID-19?
Lafougere: I believe that the pandemic has demonstrated for us the importance of being able to adapt our finance processes, such as the traditional annual planning process, to rapidly changing circumstances. This is the only way we can effectively support our organisation.
From an operational perspective, I don’t think that the challenges we have faced during the pandemic months are much different to what has been experienced by commercial organisations.
From a charitable mission perspective, however, we have found that our programmes have been needed more than ever, in many ways demonstrating even more strongly the importance of our work and therefore the fundraising effort that enables it.
Rapid fire questions
What has been your biggest lesson from this pandemic?
Lafougere: That we need to continue to adapt and be resilient.
What one piece of technology is a must-have in your 2021 budget?
Lafougere: Probably Zoom!
Looking ahead, what is one skill you want to develop in your team?
Lafougere: My team’s business partnering skills.
— Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is a freelance writer based in India. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Alexis See Tho, an FM magazine associate editor, at Alexis.SeeTho@aicpa-cima.com.