by Maria Kristic
“If someone here is interested in serving as treasurer or knows of someone who is, let me know.” It was March of 2018, and the president of Blind LGBT Pride International (BPI) had made this announcement at that month’s board meeting because the current treasurer had resigned. I was attending the board meeting as a member guest. “I nominate Maria Kristic,” another member, who knew that I had a finance background, announced. I accepted, and so began my journey as treasurer within ACB affiliates.
I had enjoyed economics courses in high school. I found that I was good at, and enjoyed, quantitative subjects. Once I had decided to switch my major from computer science, economics seemed like the natural choice. I had joined what was then called the Gay/Straight Alliance club in college, having witnessed the bigotry some of my LGBT high school classmates had faced in my hometown and wishing to express my support as an ally. When the position for treasurer came up for election in my senior year, I decided to run, figuring that it would be a good opportunity to practice my fledgling financial knowledge. To my surprise, I got elected, and had my first experience with preparing financial reports and budgeting. In graduate school, with my first guide dog by my side, I continued my finance-related studies, earning an MBA with concentration in finance and a J.D. with concentration in finance transactions in 2016.
After graduate school, I felt the desire to connect more closely with the guide dog community. I had known very few blind people until that point, and while I had previously heard and knew a little about the two consumer organizations in the U.S., I had not been interested in learning more. Researching both and finding that ACB resonated more with me, I joined Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI). Having learned the importance of adding experience to my resume while I was searching for employment, I contacted GDUI’s Budget and Finance (B&F) Committee chair, explaining my background and experiences, reasons for joining GDUI, and expressing my interest in joining the committee. While I could not join the B&F Committee at that time, she added me to the Bylaws Committee, because of my legal education. Once I ran for, and was elected, as a board member in 2017, emphasizing my financial and legal skills, I was appointed to the B&F Committee. I saw how budgets and treasurer’s reports were prepared for a larger ACB affiliate.
When I accepted the interim treasurer position for BPI, I had my work cut out for me. A treasurer’s report had not been presented to the board in several months. Lack of communication resulted in lack of knowledge about certain expenses, and the organization’s tax-exempt status had been revoked. Though I lacked direct experience with non-profit entity taxation, I was comfortable with the subject matter due to having taken a business taxation course. And I knew how to conduct research! As I gained access to the organization’s finances and began to re-apply for its tax-exempt status, the partial term ended. So I ran for a full term to complete the process. I was elected, and by the 2019 convention, BPI’s tax-exempt status had been retroactively reinstated, accounts had been reorganized, and certain expenses had been eliminated in favor of free but equally effective services. With the recruitment efforts and affiliate programming of dedicated and passionate board members over the past several years, BPI’s financial position has drastically improved. Today it is a vibrant affiliate of ACB. I am still treasurer, having begun my third full term this year, and my responsibilities are now more of the plain vanilla variety: recording transactions and reconciling them with transaction statements from financial institutions, preparing treasurer’s reports on a monthly and annual basis, and leading budget preparations based on historical patterns, input from committees, and projections of future spending as chair of BPI’s B&F Committee.
This experience has led to other finance-related opportunities in ACB affiliates. In 2019, when the Blind Information Technology Specialists (BITS) affiliate president expressed her desire to conduct the first internal organizational audit after many years, she approached me to chair the audit committee. While I had not led such an effort previously, I did have experience as a participant of an internal audit at work. Between this experience, having an interest, researching audit processes, and with the help of committed team members, we produced a written audit report which was well-received and which has been used as a template for subsequent audits.
When GDUI’s treasurer announced that she would not be running for another term in 2020, I decided to run. When I joined the organizing committee for ACB Next Generation (ACBNG), I became its initial treasurer, a position I still hold today. That was also a learning experience in applying for incorporation and tax-exempt status, establishing a bank account, and setting up various payment gateways. I have now begun my second full term as both GDUI and ACBNG treasurer. When I joined ACB’s International Relations Committee, I was asked to prepare its annual budget once it became known that I actually enjoyed putting numbers and formulas into Excel spreadsheets!
I am often asked if I have low vision when someone learns that I serve as treasurer. In fact, I am totally blind. Where it was not already in place when I assumed the role, I have enrolled in paperless statements so as to receive the data in a format I can access. So far, the nature of these affiliates’ finances have been such that I have been able to use Microsoft Excel to record transactions and prepare budgets and reports. Invoices can be paid electronically, either directly through the vendor or via a bank’s bill pay feature if a check must be issued. Along with a screen reader, the use of a refreshable braille display has been invaluable. For depositing the occasional check using mobile banking apps, I have utilized the assistance of Aira agents, trusted family members at times, and I will be trying some of the useful suggestions for independent mobile check deposit found at https://www.afb.org/aw/22/8/17660. Required filings with the Internal Revenue Service and state corporations divisions can usually be completed online. I was able to open a business account online by uploading required documents, and while some banks did require physical presence of current and past officers to change the treasurer designation, others were willing to accomplish the process via electronic signatures and online document upload once I explained the need for reasonable accommodations. With an open mind, interest, perseverance, and creativity, it is definitely possible!
Serving as treasurer has resulted in some surprising professional and personal benefits! The GDUI B&F committee chair kindly agreed to serve as one of my references when I was applying for my current job. I was once asked by a co-worker if I knew how an organization would re-apply for tax-exempt status, and due to my experience with BPI, I knew the answer! While I was drawn to BPI because of my college extracurricular experience and its offering of mind/body programming at convention, in learning more about the LGBTQIA+ community through my involvement and in engaging in self-reflection, I have also personally benefitted. I have come to realize that I am aromantic and asexual, and a member of the “A” of that rainbow.
If you have some aptitude for and interest in working with numbers, I encourage you to consider running for a treasurer position in ACB. You will learn transferable skills in a safe and supportive environment, and you will likely develop some close friendships. Who knows where else it might lead?