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How CAs Helped The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ Restore More Sight

The good work done on a daily basis by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is celebrated throughout the Pacific.

But what is less well-known is the cutting-edge financial and operational strategies in place within the organisation, facilitated by a Chartered Accountant with the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure the charity's ongoing success.

The Foundation is a registered charity that carries on the work of famous Kiwi eye surgeon Professor Fred Hollows and his vision to end avoidable blindness.

"Tragically four out of five people who are blind in the developing world don't need to be, and this can be addressed often with cataract surgery and if there is access to trained eye doctors and nurses," says The Foundation chairman, Craig Fisher FCA. "The New Zealand Foundation exists to address this issue in the Pacific."

Fisher, a Chartered Accountant, was asked to join the governance team of The Foundation nine years ago. Fisher says that a large part of his role as chairman has been to progressively improve the professionalism, effectiveness and impact of the organisation.

To this end, he identified the need for a dedicated chartered accountant to help bring the organisation into the digital age, and who was up-to-speed with the changing regulatory environment, which demanded much more accountability from the not-for-profit sector.

Enter Sharon Orr. A Chartered Accountant with many years' experience in senior finance roles in the commercial sector. Whilst she had not worked for a not-for-profit before coming on board as finance and operations director in early 2017, she quickly made her mark by incorporating many of the protocols and disciplines adopted in a commercial environment.

Sharon Orr CA

She says "I realised early on that while many charities focussed on minimising administration costs, it often came at the expense of under-resourcing their finance teams who were charged with ensuring the charity met the vast array of compliance, regulatory and statutory reporting requirements. In the case of The Foundation, these spanned multiple countries with complex and often confusing taxation systems."

One of the more challenging achievements was meeting the Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance requirements as the standards dictated that the thousands of credit card details processed by The Foundation, had to meet the strict processing standards and privacy requirements.

"Charities such as The Foundation, who operate across multiple countries also have the added complexity of managing their foreign currency exposure especially when dealing in volatile currencies. Often significant grant funding is received from overseas institutional donors in foreign currencies and the finance team is tasked with managing the foreign currency risk."

One of Orr's systemic changes was putting in place systems that provided for integrated reporting of financial and non-financial information.

"Key considerations for all donors are the ability to see where their donations have been spent, the impact that the charity has made in meeting its vision and that the utilisation of donor funding is maximised. Charities must also have appropriate forecasting systems to manage cash flows and ensure that future revenues will be sufficient to meet forecasted expenditure on programme activity."

With Orr's appointment, the operational and financial arms of the organisation were brought together, allowing for a "big picture" approach that would take in the entire organisation.

"I found travelling to our managed eye clinics, in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, gave me a real sense of the issues and challenges faced by our in-country finance and management teams. It armed me with the information I needed to be able to support and guide them to success," says Orr.

Andrew Bell, former CEO for The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, says that he wasn't aware that chartered accountants could work across both sides of an organisation so effectively; and that Orr's depth of knowledge allowed her to tackle multiple issues facing the charity.

Fisher says "She has helped our organisation to be more resilient and sustainable. The resilience and sustainability of organisations are two key drivers for me in my governance. "[Very quickly] she became a key member of our senior leadership team and her thoughtful methodological accountant's approach is greatly appreciated by others here.

Originally published by Stuff limited

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