FIERCE Competition in Nonprofits: It Isn’t a Bad Thing


IMA commits to being a FIERCE competitor because we believe doing so leads to more innovation and “sharpness” in serving mission to enrich careers, organizations, and the public interest. In many ways, for-profit entities share the same goals and objectives as nonprofit organizations and vice versa. For example, a nonprofit’s mission to guide and vision to inspire can be applied in for-profit entities; and intense focus on value, resource allocation, performance metrics, competitive differentiators, and many more for-profit factors can be applied in nonprofits. Ultimately, nonprofits need to operate like “real” businesses.

Similarly, nonprofits and for-profits share in the fierce competition environment, since fierce competition helps grow and sustain a nonprofit business. This is how I define fierce competition and it’s role and value in nonprofit organizations:


Focused on mission

A nonprofit must be laser-focused on its mission and societal purpose. Keeping your members, and their interests, top-of-mind will help you create products and services tailored to their needs. This will build your organization’s professional brand and create loyal, long-time members. There’s nothing wrong with embracing a competitive edge and developing innovative and differentiated products.



CompetitionFierce competition serves to benefit stakeholders with a relentless and unwavering emphasis on value and innovation. No one should drive in the rearview. In business, commoditization can be a kiss of death, while innovation and first-mover advantage can be business’s saviors on the path to sustainable growth and value.



Similar to innovation, being entrepreneurial means that the leadership of the nonprofit should behave like owners of a business, with “skin in the game” to make decisions that are customer-centric and timely. Although silos exist to ensure functional expertise, they must also work seamlessly and collaboratively to serve mission and society.



This is very tricky, but required (in my opinion), for a nonprofit fierce competitor. Having been a CFO in a large for-profit telecom in arguably the most hyper-competitive environment ever faced in business, I often was behind closed doors and emoted how badly I wished to crush the competition (ethically, of course). In a nonprofit environment, members and society benefit when you have this competitive edge, but you must always treat your competitors with respect because they’re usually also partners in advancing the profession for the public interest. Being fierce means having conviction of purpose but with trust, integrity, and respect top of mind. It’s all about protecting the brand.



Another element of fierce competition is being courageous, which is appropriate in any business environment. Being courageous means tackling the tough problems and issues with resolve and conviction of purpose. Your stakeholders count on you to tackle problems head on and to not take the easy way out.



And last but not least, be fierce and empathetic. Business is an ecosystem of competitors, partners, customers, members, influencers, and shareholders—all human beings with a purpose. Be an active listener. Don’t settle for artificial harmony or, at the other extreme, personalizing situations. Allow people to weigh in before they buy in. Be caring. Embracing core values leads to enhanced bottom-line value.


Nonprofits as Fierce Competitors

I believe that competition in any environment incentivizes stronger, leaner, agile, and more innovative organizations. Just because nonprofit organizations emphasize mission over profit, doesn’t mean they can’t be fierce competitors. While nonprofits can’t earn a profit per se–“no money, no mission”—behaving like an ethical business only helps better serve members and society.

IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) is one of the fastest-growing accounting associations in the world with an unwavering and relentless focus on growing the CMA program, the world’s leading credential in management accounting; enhancing the member value proposition; engaging students and young professionals; and embracing technology to enable more capable organizations. In short, we commit to being FIERCE competitors.


Written by Jeff Thomson


Related articles

Leeza Gibbons: Play Nice and Win BigStrategic Finance

Annihilate Your Competition: 6 Rules of Battle – INC.



Career Advice: The Moment That Mattered for Us


IMA’s top thought leaders are sharing the best career advice they’ve ever received, which helped shape them into the professionals they are today.


JeffACE20160619-_MTMspotJeff Thomson, CMA, CAE, is IMA’s president and CEO. Undoubtedly, he has received much career advice throughout the years, but what stuck with him the most pertained to becoming a business partner:

“To add value in your position, learn the business. This gives you the context to learn, grow, and influence. Simple as that! ‘The business’ includes your industry, how value flows, your customers, how decisions are made in your company, and what are the levers to being an influential business partner.”


Dennis Whitney, CMA, is IMA’s senior vice president of certifications, exams, and content integration. The advice he received early in his career helped him balance his workload:

“When I was in my late 20s, a supervisor/mentor told me to work hard, but have fun, and don’t worry about the things you can’t control. This advice helped me be both more productive and happier as I work toward focusing only on what matters most.”


Debbie Warner, CPLP, is IMA’s vice president of education and career services and was inspired by career advice about continuing education:

“Make learning a lifelong adventure. Not only is it fun to continually expand your horizon, but the knowledge you gain is something you will ‘own’ throughout your life and helps to determine your uniqueness.”


Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE, is IMA’s director of technical accounting activities. The best career advice she received was in the area of advocacy:

“Take control of your career, and become your strongest advocate. Carve out and identify your area of expertise, and develop a career path accordingly. That advice is why I think I was considered for my original position at IMA 10 years ago, as director of professional advocacy. As I continue to be an advocate for my career, I am also a strong advocate for IMA and love opportunities that allow me to talk about IMA’s membership benefits, including the CMA® [Certified Management Accountant] designation.”


Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, is IMA’s vice president of research and professor-in-residence. He was inspired at a young age to strive to reach his goals:

“One of my high school teachers wrote in my yearbook something to the effect that in order to succeed, you need both ‘smarts’ and perseverance; one of these alone was not sufficient.”


Doreen Remmen, CMA, CAE, is IMA’s senior vice president of operations and CFO.

“The best career advice I received was the advice I gave myself: ‘Get certified!’”


What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Did it help you grow personally and professionally? How else did it change you? Leave your comments below!


Related Articles

Supporting Your Career PathwayStrategic Finance

How To Position Your Personal Brand For Next-Stage Career GrowthForbes


How to Become a Stronger Leader

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”Libba Bray

One moment is all it takes to be inspired. That quote from author Libba Bray got me thinking about the people who have inspired change in me over the years and how their leadership qualities have influenced me to become a better leader every day. For me, these three leadership qualities stand out to me as most vital for success:




As financial professionals working in business, we agree to abide by the highest standards of ethics, integrity, and trust. Having integrity means you are a trustworthy, reliable, and credible leader, especially in our field. Accountants at all levels must uphold ethical practices to do their jobs the right way or else they face high penalties and damage to their reputation.

There is nothing more important than your brand and your reputation. My positions in industry, where I worked at one of the world’s most trusted companies, taught me that “the good guys” can win in the market—a company that upholds its values will succeed. The collateral damage from a competitor’s fraudulent behavior is real. How you achieve outcomes is as important as the outcomes themselves.


Businessmen is holding out a red heart


Passion is contagious. If you’re passionate about what you do, chances are you’ll inspire others to be passionate, too. Being a passionate—and compassionate—leader shows your employees that you’re invested in them and in the team, always seeking to build followership, as coined by leadership guru John C. Maxwell.

Passion to me is about a genuine, unwavering, and relentless desire to be a stronger family member and businessperson regardless of the status you have achieved. When I joined IMA, coming from a wonderful business career that included being CFO of a multi-billion-dollar operation, I had zero professional certifications. When I saw the passion of IMA’s volunteers for the value of professional certifications, it inspired me to earn the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) and CAE (Certified Association Executive) credentials. Now I’m even more passionate because I better understand the industry and the work that our members do.




Commitment comes in many forms: commitment to projects, people, business relationships, and more. When you lead by example, your team can see that you are committed and are working hard to achieve success. A strong leader should also be committed to being ethical and courageous, always inspiring a culture of challenge. Keep your promises, admit your mistakes, continuously learn, and build a respectful rapport with your team.

I have faced intense competition in my industry positions and at IMA. I have learned that commitment to people, mission, and strategy is key to sustainable success. When times get tough, you really learn who you can count on and how resilient your strategy is. I am a firm believer in FIERCE competition (Focused on mission, Innovative, Entrepreneurial, Respectful, Courageous, and Empathetic).


Change, One Moment at a Time

Having integrity, passion, and commitment will build a well-rounded base for being a strong leader. Integrity allows you to uphold your ethical values and build your reputation as a trusted business professional. Exuding genuine passion and commitment for your work fosters a unified, mutually respectful business culture. You can advance the management accounting profession by becoming a stronger leader. It only takes a moment, a gesture, or a person to make a difference.

What or who inspires you to be a better leader?


Written by Jeff Thomson


Related Articles

“Leading Without a Title” Strategic Finance

“The 9 Traits That Define Great Leadership”Inc.

Innovation: A PR Tool or Part of Business Success?

As IMA’s CEO, I fully support a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, it’s one of IMA’s Global Core Values. We live in an environment of competition, consolidation, commoditization, and complexity. An emphasis on innovation as a sustainable business process helps you reach your company’s financial and nonfinancial goals by delivering differentiated value. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when considering innovation in your company:

  1. Why is it important?

In today’s fast-paced business landscape, companies need to innovate to stay relevant and successful. A company that fosters innovation allows its employees and other stakeholders at all levels to become involved in the innovation cycle, from ideation to implementation.

For example, after two years of having a staff innovation council at IMA, we believe innovation is built into our strategic “DNA” with incentives to take risks and build prototypes to test ideas early. We follow Cynthia Barton Rabe’s credo: “Don’t let what you know limit what you can imagine.”

  1. How will you inspire innovation?

Recent IMA research found that while companies want to innovate, they fall short on the “how-to,” which includes innovation governance and measurement and the role of the CFO. Make it part of your culture and strategy to ensure sustainability. Treat it as a body of knowledge or a business process that requires investment, governance, and reasonable short- and long-term ROI expectations.

Per reengineering expert Gary Hamel, “Radical innovation comes from generating a collective sense of destiny, from unleashing the imagination of people across the organization and teaching people how to see unconventional opportunities… Most companies devote too much energy to optimizing what is there than to imagine what could be. We need to create constituencies for ‘What Could Be.’”

  1. How will you measure innovation?


IMA recently published Advancing Innovation by Patrick Stroh that includes a new measure called Innovation Value Score (IVS). It uses the BSC framework developed by cofounder Robert S. Kaplan, who wrote the foreword of the book. IVS allows you to assess innovation success, drive innovation in your company, and provide actionable information to corporate decision makers.

While our members, customers, and the profession are the ultimate judge of IMA’s value-added products, services, and bundles, IMA has delivered on several innovative ideas in the past year, including CareerDriver, a new self-assessment competency management tool; the Student Leadership Experience, giving qualified students an opportunity to directly participate in IMA’s Board meetings; and an “inspired technology lab,” focusing squarely on the user experience with IMA portals.

Driving Home Innovation

Don’t treat innovation as a “one-hit wonder” or PR tool to impress your members, customers, board, or other stakeholders. Instead, enable innovation governance, measurement, and role clarity to experience long-term innovation success.

Hamel put it best: “To encourage innovation, to create a real constituency for What Could Be, companies need to unleash ideas, passion, and commitment across the company. We have to move…beyond innovation as a once-in-a-while project, to thinking about innovation as a deep capability.”

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

Related Articles:
How to Drive Innovation as a CFO – Jeff Thomson, Forbes
Advancing Innovation: What’s Your Role?Strategic Finance
How Crowdsourcing Delivers Supply Chain Innovation –

International Accounting Day: Celebrating Our Young Professionals

Happy International Accounting Day! I’d like to celebrate by shining a light on the future of our profession: young professionals. This year’s winners of IMA’s Young Professional of the Year Award were chosen for their outstanding and creative approaches to problem solving within the accounting and finance profession. These forward-looking individuals are the driving force behind the evolution of our profession.

adrien dubourgAdrien Dubourg, CMA, CPA, is a manager for the EPM Finance Transformation Practice at The Hackett Group. He has served as a board member of IMA’s Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter for 3+ years, including leading its Young Professionals and Academic Relations Committee. He’s also the treasurer of a nonprofit and sometimes gives lectures for CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) candidates at the University of Dallas. Adrien loves to spend time with his two sons and wife. He says that being passionate about what you do will drive you to career success.

Blog Quotes 11.10.15-01

Ashley_2014Ashley Gibson, CMA, CPA, is a manager at Deloitte Advisory and a member of IMA’s Technology Solutions & Practices Committee. She is currently a student in the Professional MBA Program at Texas A&M University. For her, being an accountant is more than doing taxes and being a bean counter: “I try to be a superhero to the clients I serve, but sometimes I feel like a spy because I’m an outsider, who no one knows by the water cooler, coming in to save the day.”

Blog Quotes 11.10.15-02

brian neale- headshotBrian Neale, CMA, CPA, is currently on sponsored educational leave of absence as he pursues an MBA at the Fuqua (Duke) School of Business. He’ll return to his role as finance manager at General Mills after graduation. Brian thinks of accounting as “the language of business” and works to document the company’s financials, create and manage its control environment, and provide management with useful financial information to guide strategic decisions. Outside of work and his studies, Brian loves to paint, draw, and write and record music.

Blog Quotes 11.10.15-03

tasheeTasheé Singleton is the director of public housing operations for the Housing Authority of Columbus, Ga. She is the chair-elect of IMA’s Gulf South Council and a member of IMA’s Global Board of Directors. Besides work and IMA, Tasheé’s four children keep her active with their sports and academic activities. In addition, she’s partnering with two women to help children with hands-on learning. Her advice to others entering the field? “Be yourself, don’t be easily offended, ask plenty of questions, and seek a mentor.”

Blog Quotes 11.10.15-04

On November 10, 1494, Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli published the first book that discussed double entry bookkeeping – a stepping stone for modern-day accounting. Today we can reflect on the 521-year history of our profession and look to its bright future with these inspiring, passionate, and driven young professionals leading the way. Here’s to another 521 years of accounting!

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

Related Articles:
What CFOs Need to Know About Gen X and Gen Y – AccountingWeb
News: Next-Generation Job CandidatesStrategic Finance

How You Can Become an Influencer

As IMA’s President and CEO, I take pride in the organization’s global recognition as a leader in the accounting and finance profession. I believe that to be successful in business, you must be an inspiring leader and set a positive example for others in your business and industry – to be an influencer. Influencing others takes many shapes, and it is an attribute not just reserved for the “top person.” Here are a few tips to stand out as an influencer:

Know the Subject Matterpendulum
One way to become an influencer is to be credible, to be technically competent, and to be a master at whatever you do. That means keeping up with the latest trends and sharing knowledge with the people around you. To signal this competence, consider earning a certification, like the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant). Certified professionals have earned a mark of distinction and are trusted business advisors within their businesses. They also set the standard for others around them and are always working on continuous improvement – in their careers, businesses, and personal lives.

Commit to On-Going Learning and Growth
Being an influencer also means you are committed to continuous learning and growth, including on-going continuing education requirements as part of the commitment to your certification. This enhances your credibility as an influencer because it shows you are committed to not only staying current but also staying ahead, enabling you to provide relevant and, hopefully inspiring, advice.

Become a Mentor
Mentoring is another way you can influence others – whether you’re advising your peers, young professionals just starting their careers, or students via a college campus group (such as IMA’s network of student chapters or mentoring program). Sharing your knowledge with and guiding others is a great way to build your influence to nurture and develop great leaders of the future.

Listen Carefully
As a leader in your business, you must ensure you listen carefully and empathetically to your employees and peers. A good influencer doesn’t just hear what people say but listens to their advice and guidance in order to lead better. Influencing, much like mentoring, is a two-way street with mutual learning and growth for both parties. Be open to being an inspiring influencer and even an inspired “influencee” (yes, a new word!).

Engage imask2n Fierce Conversations
You will enhance your credibility and value as an influencer if you commit to a culture of challenge and engage in fierce conversations – avoiding artificial harmony at one extreme or personal attacks at the other, but rather embracing honest, genuine, and head-on conversations to solve issues. (Read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott – this is one of my favorite books and has taught me a lot!)

Be an Influencer
IMA has set the tone in our industry by releasing timely research via the IMA Research Foundation, thought-provoking magazine articles via Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly, and educational webinars and courses to supplement CPE requirements for certified professionals. I will continuously work toward making IMA a strong influencer around the world to enrich careers, organizations, and the public interest.

Share your stories of how you’ve influenced others in the comments below.

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

Related Articles

“Jeff Thomson Named Among Accounting Today’s ‘Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting’” – IMA Online News

“How India Influenced Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg” – The Wall Street Journal, India

Women in Leadership: Power Your Way to the Top

There was a lot of excitement at the IMA® Annual Conference & Expo this year: the breath-taking city, the record-breaking numbers of CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certificates awarded during the year, and the passionate winners of IMA’s various awards. I want to take this time to spotlight the winners of the Distinguished Member Award, which recognizes IMA members whose successes, exceptional achievements, dedication, and professionalism bring honor to IMA and the profession. This year, two inspiring women received the honor:

fatemaFatema El-Wakeel, CMA, MBA, is the bought-out engine strategy and capacity planner at Jaguar Land Rover in the United Kingdom. She has held many complex leadership roles while working in strategic planning, change management, and financial management in different industries across the EMEA region. She has been promoting IMA and the CMA program in Egypt, the U.K., and Ireland and has helped IMA and the CMA become internationally recognized. While she lived in Egypt, Fatema founded the IMA Cairo Chapter. Then she moved to the U.K. to continue her education. She recently graduated from Manchester University with an MBA. Within the past few years, Fatema has worked to connect the U.K. and Ireland to the CMA program and is currently working to establish an IMA chapter in the U.K. In addition, Fatema’s picture is featured in the lobby of IMA Headquarters in Montvale, N.J., welcoming everyone into the building with her warm smile.

NiwNjAzBLeslie F. Seidman, CPA, is the executive director of the Center for Excellence in Financial Reporting at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University. She also is a director at Moody’s Corporation, a governor of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and is the immediate past chair of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). In keeping with IMA’s Mission and Core Values, Leslie supports female accounting professionals “so that they can reach their full career potential.” Most recently, Leslie launched the Women’s Accounting Leadership Series (WALS), which are events cosponsored by IMA and Pace University. This innovative forum focuses on both business acumen and career development, to help more women advance in the profession.

Blazing the Path
IMA and Pace University cosponsor the WALS events, which gather female accounting and finance leaders at all levels of their career to explore trends and topics important to the profession. Speakers at these events have included Leslie Seidman; Dr. Sandra Richtermeyer, former Chair of IMA’s Global Board of Directors and associate dean at Xavier University; and Kristin Bauer, partner at Deloitte LLP and former FASB Fellow.

ION_343_WALS - 2

From left to right: Dr. Sandra Richtermeyer, former Chair of IMA’s Global Board of Directors and associate dean at Xavier University; Kristin Bauer, partner at Deloitte LLP and former FASB Fellow; and Leslie Seidman, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Financial Reporting at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.

When Leslie first discussed with me the idea of a women’s accounting leadership forum to network, grow, and learn (and to address real-world issues like the low proportion of females in senior accounting leadership positions), I too became passionate about the idea and asked Sandra if she would be interested in working with Leslie. The answer was a resounding, “Are you kidding, of course!” And now we have conducted two sessions with strong attendance and engagement. The WALS events have turned into an interactive forum for women to discuss and educate each other on both technical and leadership skills. It’s important that IMA support this platform as a conversation for career issues, current business issues, and more.

The next event will be held October 9, 2015, at PACE University in New York City. Sandra and Leslie will be joined by Sue Cosper, chairman of the Emerging Issues Task Force and technical director of the FASB. Sandra and Leslie plan to hold these events twice per year.

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

Related Articles

“Accounting for the Glass Ceiling” – Jeff Thomson on Forbes
“Supporting Women’s Accounting Leadership” – Jeff Thomson on Forbes
“Leading the Way – Women Leaders Matter” – National Association of Professional Women