CFO of the Year Finalists (Nonprofits): Nikki Parnell

CFO of the Year Finalists (Nonprofits): Nikki Parnell
Nikki Parnell
Chief Financial Officer
Museum of Discovery, Little Rock

(Michael Pirnique)

Nikki Parnell currently is the finance department for Little Rock’s Museum of Discovery.

The 28-year-old Crittenden County native joined the museum’s staff at a difficult time in the nonprofit’s history. Hired just one year before the math, science and technology museum closed for nine months of renovations, Parnell was given the task of managing the finances for the organization while it was recovering from a recession and was facing financial tightening, major staff restructuring and educational program revamping.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation granted the nonprofit $9.2 million for renovations, so the museum closed in April to allow for a complete renovation of its exhibits and facility. It is scheduled to reopen Jan. 14. The museum also trimmed its staff because “there just wasn’t enough work” during the closed period, Parnell said.

Among Parnell’s achievements has been to pay for the museum’s events and staff without the nonprofit’s usual major funding sources of admission fees and facility rentals. The Reynolds grant is paying for renovations, not museum operations.

“I think that what has been challenging for this position has been managing the cash flow and the organization while closed to the public,” Parnell said. “Nonprofits deal with limited resources in the first place. When you cut off a substantial source of those resources, it’s difficult to manage.”

The organization had a 4.38 percent decrease in revenue in 2009 due to the recession and just held steady in 2010, forcing Parnell to help lead the museum in cutting costs.

Parnell is a certified public accountant who said she “fell in love” with accounting after taking one class at Hendrix College in Conway.

Internships as a staff accountant at Hendrix and as a financial analyst at Acxiom Corp. cemented her interest in the field.

Parnell began working at the nonprofit after spending four years at Thomas & Thomas LLP, a public accounting firm in Little Rock. She spent much of her time at Thomas & Thomas auditing nonprofits, so she knew a great deal about what she was getting into when she changed jobs in 2010.

Her interest in nonprofits goes beyond her job. She serves as a board member and treasurer for Sculpture at the River Market in Little Rock, as a member of the Junior League of Little Rock and as a planning committee member for Camp Aldersgate’s After Dark fundraiser.

“I really developed a passion for the industry,” she said. “What I really appreciate and was drawn to is the role that nonprofits serve in our community.”

Because the Museum of Discovery has a small staff, Parnell gets to have a role that goes beyond managing money. For example, she has helped brainstorm for ways to promote aspects of the museum and once pitched in to help teach visiting schoolchildren during an educational program.

“I really get a taste of every part of the organization and it really is rewarding,” she said. “Being involved in all parts … really makes you feel like you’re part of that mission.”