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Rick Hansen Foundation CFO tackles classic challenges facing non-profits

Funding and cash flow are integral to the success of a non-profit, something with which CPA, CA Catherine Ruby is intimately familiar




Catherine Ruby wanted a career helping people with disabilities; her CPA training allowed her to make a big impact doing so

Catherine Ruby, CPA, CA, grew up in Northern Ireland, dreaming of a career training guide dogs. Her practical-minded father, a Chartered Accountant, always suggested that accounting training would open a lot of doors.

“Over the years he brought me round to thinking that perhaps I could be an accountant and own a dog or run a business involving dogs,” says Ruby. “So I pursued my designation with Arthur Andersen and then KPMG in Dublin, Ireland, working with large private enterprises and health authorities. When the opportunity arose to work with not-for-profit entities, I took it.”

That opportunity arose in 2009 with the Rick Hansen Foundation; though she wasn’t familiar with their work, she quickly learned that their values aligned.

“I couldn’t help but be immediately inspired,” says Ruby. Rick Hansen overcame a catastrophic injury and didn’t allow it to slow him down. “He’s the first person with a disability to achieve a degree in physical education from UBC; he’s won six Paralympic medals; and he’s wheeled 44,000 kilometers around the world.”

Hansen has dedicated his life to raising awareness of people with disabilities’ potential, removing barriers along the way. “I was excited to be part of that,” says Ruby of the opportunity to join their team.

Ruby had already relocated to Canada’s West Coast with KPMG years before the Rick Hansen Foundation opportunity arose. At the time, she was in a secondment position with the Foundation’s finance team. She was impressed by how passionately her colleagues worked to find funding and develop solutions to challenging systemic issues.

When the Foundation launched a separate research-based entity, the Rick Hansen Institute, Ruby took on the role of finance director. She was tasked with setting up the finance department and monitoring accountability under government contribution agreements. In 2012, Ruby was promoted to chief financial officer, responsible for implementing a shared finance structure across the two organizations. Her CPA training was essential to developing confidence in aligning financial reporting with strategy.

One of the toughest challenges for any non-profit is funding. Without a sustainable cash flow, important projects are always at risk of derailment and key personnel are constantly pulled away from advocacy work to solve financial problems.

“I’ve been able to develop financial models and strategies to achieve financial sustainability and leverage resources across both organizations to streamline processes and reporting.” For the Foundation, this has translated to a more stable cash flow; it also allows the fundraising staff to continue their advocacy work more effectively with a streamlined accounting process.

For someone aspiring to work as an accessibility advocate, accounting may not appear as the most obvious route. But as Ruby’s father had advised so many years ago, CPAs know about so much more than money.

“We learned to work collaboratively and communicate effectively with client staff and our colleagues,” she says. “Those skills [learned by CPAs] are invaluable to any organization and I want someone with that expertise on my team.”

She explains that over the course of her career she’s used the skills she learned in her studies, such as project management, which has been necessary while her team works on concurrent projects with other divisions, clients and deadlines. The ability to balance projects while thinking critically about financial solutions is invaluable to the non-profit world.

Building on her experience with the Foundation, Ruby is taking these valuable skills to a new challenge, supporting the growth of children as CFO for Collingwood School in West Vancouver. Perhaps her interesting path to helping those with disabilities will inspire another generation of young idealists to consider CPA training.