CFO of the Year 2023 Small Nonprofit: Brian Peterson, Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans
For five years Brian Peterson, chief financial officer of St. Paul-based Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, has striven to eradicate Veteran homelessness in Minnesota. He received this award from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
Peterson significantly improved relations with major donors, resulting in more direct contributions and increased funding from just over $2 million in 2018 to more than $14 million today. This enabled MACV to expand its workforce and increase its impact statewide.
He transitioned the organization from paper records and manual reimbursement processes to a fully automated system synchronized with MACV’s client database, significantly improving efficiency and accuracy. Additionally, Peterson has worked toward making MACV an employer of choice by creating a work environment that attracts and retains top talent, is more efficient at service delivery, and is less reliant on contractors.
Outside of MACV, Peterson is board chair of Venture Academy and a partner at Social Venture Partners Minnesota.
More from our honoree …
Hometown: Crookston, now lives in New Brighton
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business, finance and nonprofit management, University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management
Family: Wife, Lisa; daughters, Evie and Etta; dog, Minna
Hobbies: Running, paddling, hiking
What’s a key metric or number from your career that you’re proud of? The number changes often and has more than tripled in the past six years, but today it is 124. That’s the number of people who I am lucky to consider my colleagues at Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, in addition to many more who have since advanced onward to other chapters in their careers. All on our team are dedicated to their role in supporting veterans and their families on a pathway to housing stability no matter the obstacles.
Why finance as a career? I was 19 years old and in my first year of college at the University of Minnesota when three friends and I founded an organization called Students Today Leaders Forever. Together, we built a nonprofit supporting dozens of college and high school chapters and youth-led leadership programs across the country. That opportunity to help build an organization while gaining an education in finance and nonprofit management set me on a path in nonprofit finance and leadership that I am still on today.
What was a key takeaway from the past year that will guide you going forward? I have long been guided by a belief that stronger organizations make a bigger difference. Nonprofits are working to solve many of the most complex challenges facing our society, and it is our responsibility as leaders to fully value the importance of our work and the resources it requires to be strong and capable as organizations and as a sector. While we work to make the biggest impact with every dollar, we should also strive to do more with more, support and invest in our people, and build financial health and capacity to truly achieve our missions and purpose.
Most unusual corporate expense you’ve ever OK’d: There are some very unique requests among the several million dollars in direct financial assistance related to housing stability that MACV provides each year. Some of the more creative ways in which we’ve supported people are by also supporting their pets. We’ve purchased insurance coverage when required by landlords to help someone keep their pet when moving into an apartment, supported pet care when they needed it, and much more to help preserve the support a pet can provide as we work with a veteran towards achieving stable housing.
How do you start your day? My early mornings currently revolve around helping our two young children get ready for the day and dropping them off at their school on my way into the office. And coffee!
What advice would you give a high school student? You will always gain more knowledge, experience and wisdom as you progress further into your career — although you will never have a greater ability to believe in what is possible, have more natural creativity, and learn from incredible mentors than during your youth. If you have an idea to build something or make a difference in the world, start with the first step and see where the journey leads. Bring some friends along for the ride, commit to each other as people, ask for help from literally anyone, and work hard.
What is something not many people know about you? I’m the type of person that given the time has a lot of interests. One of them was that I always wanted to build a wood boat like the one I had when I was a little kid. One day, I rented a truck, drove an hour to buy four sheets of marine-grade plywood, and started the project to cut them up and stitch together a little 12-foot skiff. That little rowboat has since provided our “first boat ride” at our wedding and gets us out on the water still today.