"Doing good is a bitch/I could do so much more if I were stinking rich.”
David Gray penned that couplet. If you want to hear him sing it, along with the rest of the lyrics, just visit YouTube and search for “Nonprofit Lament.” In two-and-a-half minutes he’ll explain all you need to know about idealism and reality in the nonprofit world.
But don’t lose hope. Gray, founder of Finance Arts (see U.S. 1, June 2, 2010), makes it his business to help nonprofits and those who don’t fit into the traditional weekly paycheck mold (i.e., artists) get a better handle on reality. Since opening last year Gray says he has built a solid base of clients from the New Jersey arts scene. “People I have known for some time are now coming to me for financial planning help,” he says. They are referring colleagues, so yes, this is much as I had hoped.”
Gray’s nonprofit consulting and financial planning work grew from his beginnings as a writer. Early in his career he ghostwrote for a series of popular fiction books, but quickly tired of the erratic pay schedule that a creative career often brings. He ventured into finance and consulting about a decade ago, which led him to two jobs as an executive director — one at American Repertory Ballet (which also runs the Princeton ballet school) and the other at the New Brunswick Cultural Center.
While he founded Finance Arts largely to consult with nonprofits, Gray says he missed helping people reach their financial goals. He continues to work with nonprofits, but is working with families too.
His consulting with nonprofits has, however, gotten interesting. Asked whether nonprofits were in better or worse shape than a year ago, Gray says “Better and worse. The external conditions in which they operate are not much improved. People are still reluctant to donate, corporations are still reluctant to expand giving. Arts funding is down, pretty much across the board.”
However, he says, in this, the third year of really difficult financial conditions, most nonprofits in his orbit have learned difficult and valuable lessons about managing in tough times. “Budgets are much more realistic,” he says. “Planning is much more reality-based and there is less and less fantasy in fundraising goals. You are seeing boards be much more engaged in the financial processes and governance.”
In the long run, Gray says, creative thinking in the nonprofit sector and a willingness to partner with other agencies should make the sector stronger than before.
Outside of nonprofits, there is the public employee sector that Gray is working with more regularly. He says he has not been so much surprised as intrigued by the previous 12 months. “The political changes in the state are certainly entertaining,” he says. “I have a number of clients who are state employees and they have lots of questions and insecurity compared to even a few years ago.”
Gray says the health of the state pension system is an obvious concern, as is the implosion of the longterm care insurance business. “The recent requests for massive premium increases does not inspire confidence among those in the planning community that this is a product we can really be recommending to clients,” he says.
In terms of his own initiatives, Gray has finished the book on finance that he had been working on for a long time (“Those executive director jobs got in the way of finishing it”). the book, “Nonprofit Cash Flow” introduces familiar personal finance topics and explains how they relate (or don’t relate) to their nonprofit organizational counterparts. “I use lots of real-world examples, including the erratic income that my wife (Kyra Nichols) used to earn as a New York City Ballet principal dancer,” he says. “It covers the kinds of things that everyone working in nonprofits should know, as should their board members. And you can read it in an evening.”
The book is leading to lots of public speaking, which has been great for marketing the business,” Gray says. “It also is leading to more interest in my nonprofit consulting outside the local area.” In the last month Gray has been asked to submit proposals for projects in Connecticut, and California. “My fingers are crossed,” he says.
Just around the time he opened Finance Arts last spring, Gray completed training to become a certified divorce financial analyst. “I’m doing additional training on collaborative divorce so I expect that this specific niche within financial planning will probably grow,” he says.
Lastly, if you think the life of a former arts guy-turned financial wizard is all about numbers, it isn’t. In addition to that financial book he took so long to write, Gray had been working on a novel too. He finished it a few years ago and has decided to publish it. “Later this spring I will be hustling my own artistic efforts,” he says.
#b#Finance Arts LLC#/b#, 195 Nassau Street, Suite 31, Princeton, 08542; 609-924-0040. David Gray, president. Home page: http://financearts.com