Know your mission — Organizations that are clear on their mission are most successful. If people can’t succinctly describe why your organization exists, they are unlikely to donate their time, talent, or treasure. Nonprofits need clear mission statements so that they know where to focus their attention and know how they can measure their progress and impact.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melisa Galasso, CPA.

Melisa is the founder and CEO of Galasso Learning Solutions. She is passionate about adult learning and the accounting profession. As a result, it’s no surprise that she makes a career of designing and facilitating courses in advanced technical accounting and auditing topics, including not-for-profit and governmental accounting. Melisa is the author of Money Matters for Nonprofits: How Board Members Can Harness the Power of Financial Statements by Understanding Basic Accounting, which was released in August 2022 and was written to help nonprofit board members understand their fiduciary responsibilities with a straightforward boot camp in nonprofit financial reporting.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

I have always excelled in school and was very goal-oriented, even as a child. I graduated near the top of my class in high school, and I was accepted early action to my top choice college — Georgetown University. After living a relatively sheltered childhood where we didn’t travel much and most people in my circle had backgrounds very similar to my own, arriving at Georgetown helped me to embrace a more world view. Having classmates from all over the country and the world, opened my mind and taught me to celebrate the cultural differences that exist. My roommate during my freshman year was from La Jolla, California and it would be hard to find more different people to share a very tight space for a whole year!

However, the Georgetown experience that had the biggest impact on me was studying abroad in both France and England. I directly matriculated into a French university in Paris, where I was often the only American student in my classes. The opportunity to live with a host family had a profound impact on my worldview. I traveled extensively while abroad and had the opportunity to leverage the amazing network of trains in Europe to visit every country but Portugal. Living with a host family and having to navigate my way through countries where I didn’t speak the language stretched my perspectives. Learning new things and exploring other cultures through travel are now permanent parts of my annual goals. In fact, continuous learning became one of the core values at Galasso Learning Solutions.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

I’ve always been a very decisive person. I weigh the facts, make a decision, and start to implement it. Once the decision is made, I rarely go back and rethink it. I move aggressively on to implementation. In fact, my strongest action modes in the Kolbe Index are Follow Through and Fact Finder. While that is an unusual combination, it fits my personality well. Last year, my entire team took the Kolbe and we had an expert explain how our team best works together. My characteristics as a leader ensure that decisions are made efficiently, uncertainty is minimized, and the path forward is clear.

The next trait that I think has been instrumental is discipline. While thinking of this question I considered the terms determination, persistence and focus but at the end of the day it is very simple — when I have an assigned task, I complete it. I love organization and to-do lists. My tool of choice is Trello and it still brings me great joy to mark an item as completed. My ability to prioritize what is most important and then consistently follow-through is at the heart of my successes.

Finally, I would say confidence is a skill for which I am proud. There are lots of studies on imposter syndrome and women’s confidence, but generally that does not apply to me. I feel very confident in my abilities and in my decision-making. I know when my work is going to exceed expectations and I know the hard work I put is going to make clients happy. While I can’t say that I’ve never had doubts or concerns, I know that confidence has been my superpower more times than it hasn’t!

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

As a recovering perfectionist, I really despised asking for help. When I first started Galasso Learning Solutions, it was just me. I sold the courses, created the slides, presented the material, booked the travel, invoiced clients, and paid the taxes. I was a one-man shop. Over the years, the organization has grown so that approach was not possible. I’ve added people with different skill sets whose support could help grow the organization. But asking for help had always been hard for me and it almost felt like a sign of weakness. Much to my surprise, over the years I have come to appreciate that people respect those who ask for help. We’re a better organization because of the people I depend on every day. Asking for help isn’t weakness but leads to a bigger and better organization!

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Individuals who serve on nonprofit boards want to make a big difference for their organization and they know that their organization must be financially secure to achieve their goals. However, many people find financial statements hard to decipher and financial information overwhelming. This is especially true when someone doesn’t identify as a “numbers person”. When seeking to learn more about these topics, one would find there were not many good options for books aimed at nonprofit board members wanting to learn the numbers. The books that existed generally emphasized board governance, fundraising, or general leadership (with maybe a chapter on accounting and finance). On the other hand, books about nonprofit accounting dove way too deep into debits, credits, and adjusting entries to be appropriate for most non-bookkeepers.

That’s why I wrote Money Matters for Nonprofits, which details how board members can “harness the power of financial statements by understanding basic accounting”. The goal of the book is to help those who serve nonprofits understand the importance of accounting and auditing, demystify the financial statements, and empower them to better advise their organizations. This lets them make an even greater difference in the world. After reading Money Matters for Nonprofits, board members should be able to identify the key fiduciary responsibilities of nonprofit board members. This is important as being a board member has legal responsibility that many are not aware of. They should also be able to recall the details in the financial statements required for nonprofit entities including the statement of financial position, the statement of activities and statement of cash flows. Once they can understand and read the financial statements, they should also be able to calculate key ratios and perform trend analysis to evaluate the health of the organization. Finally, they should be better able to understand and build beneficial relationships with the nonprofit’s independent public accountant. These relationships can be vital to the success of an organization.

I wrote Money Matters for Nonprofits in an easy-to-understand style and filled the pages with stories and real-world examples. My goal was to take the mystery out of nonprofit accounting and turn financial statements into a powerful tool that the board member can use to benchmark the organization and evaluate areas for improvement. Armed with the knowledge from this book, readers of all backgrounds will be better able to help their organizations achieve their mission and bring good to their communities.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

While I financially support many causes, I knew I could make the biggest impact using my financial acumen and my love of accounting. Accounting is the language of business and while nonprofits are not created to generate a profit, they in some ways have to run like businesses to be successful. Unfortunately, many people fear numbers and financial information. However, financial literacy helps all organizations no matter their cause. Therefore, using my skill set, I can help organizations in all different areas of the nonprofit arena and have the largest impact. Universities and soup kitchens, free health clinics and ballets, they all need boards that can interpret the financial statements to help hold them accountable. My ability to share accounting in a way that is approachable and story-based can help nonprofits regardless of their specific mission be more successful. That makes me super passionate about sharing the information needed for nonprofit board members to read and evaluate financial statements.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

An organization that had received significant federal funding was required to have an audit, which unfortunately identified several very large internal control deficiencies and material noncompliance with the terms and conditions of the funding. As part of the remediation of these issues, the organization was required to receive training on the compliance requirements associated with federal awards. The course I created for them covered best practices in internal controls with a focus on why controls were important and how each person’s role included a responsibility to ensure compliance. At the end of the class, I invited each attendee to name just one thing they learned during that course. Each person shared something that made the class rewarding. But one person’s answer really hit me at my core, and I still remember it vividly today. The woman, who was sitting in the middle of the room, said that she, for the first time, understood why she was supposed to review the work of those who reported to her. She had always been overwhelmed with her own workload and thus often just signed off on eligibility assessments without review. However, after the training, she was motivated to perform the proper checks and balances to ensure that federal funding was distributed only to those individuals who met the eligibility requirements. In other words, she finally understood the importance of her role in the organization’s internal controls. Developing this unique and very detailed course was time-consuming but knowing the impact that it made on just that one individual made it worth it.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  1. Join a board.
  2. Take it seriously.
  3. Move the organization forward.

Most organizations are in desperate need of committed board members. Servant leadership is a great way to influence outcomes and benefit whatever issue you are most passionate about. Most nonprofits need board members to be engaged and willing to do some heavy lifting to support the staff that is trying to stretch limited resources as far as possible. When you commit to a board, you are committing to preparing for board meetings, asking questions, and fulfilling your fiduciary responsibilities. It’s not just something you list on your resume. It’s hard work. Once you are settled in as a board member, it’s up to you to evaluate the organization, track key performance indicators (KPIs), and help move the organization forward. Organizations need to identify areas that may not be operating effectively or efficiently. Board members can use ratios or other benchmarks to evaluate the organization and ensure it is moving in the right direction. Pick the issue that you are most passionate about, find an organization, and serve as an active board member!

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

Know your mission — Organizations that are clear on their mission are most successful. If people can’t succinctly describe why your organization exists, they are unlikely to donate their time, talent, or treasure. Nonprofits need clear mission statements so that they know where to focus their attention and know how they can measure their progress and impact.

Select a well-rounded diverse board — A board full of financial experts is likely going to have very nice-looking financial statements. However, it will likely not be as successful as a board filled with people who have a variety of passions for marketing, donor engagement, fundraising, and grant writing. The board should be filled with people who are passionate about the mission but who also bring specific skills to the table. The board should evaluate the current composition of the board and identify holes. Then strategically focus on filling those positions with people who have the right talents. Having too many people who think the same way prevents the organization from looking at problems from different angles and from achieving its potential.

Set goals and KPIs and then measure what matters. If you know your mission, then you need to know if you are achieving your mission. Set goals that meet the SMART mnemonic — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. KPIs should be selected, both leading and lagging, which help the organization determine if they are on the right track. If you know what your goals are, figure out how you can measure progress to achieving that goal. Goals should be easy for people to understand and determine what they need to do to ensure that those goals are accomplished.

Evaluate yourself regularly — At each board meeting, the executive director and the board should look at progress towards the goals that were selected. There should be a clear owner of each KPI or goal. This helps hold people accountable for their actions and the success of the organization. Progress should be tracked and if a goal if off track, the root cause of the disconnect so proper action can be taken. In addition, KPIs should be reevaluated each year to see if they are still relevant or if different KPIs are needed to continue to move the organization forward.

Engage donors — Nonprofits would not survive without donors. Donors need to understand the organization’s mission and the efforts being made to achieve the mission. They need to understand how their philanthropy is impacting the organization. Donors should be actively engaged as donors with a passive relationship may not continue to donate if another organization engages them in the outcome. Engaged donors are more likely to continue to contribute even when times get tough because of the relationship with the organization.

I’ll even throw in a bonus 6th key to success, which is to be willing to adapt when necessary. While setting KPIs and goals is super important, sometimes things don’t go as planned. COVID definitely threw a wrench in many nonprofits’ plans. Being able to adapt to situations outside your control will help the organization pivot as needed. Flexibility is key when dealing with great uncertainty.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

I think this really goes along with my bonus. Nonprofits need to know their goals. However, it’s important to know that how you get there may have to change due to things well outside your control. The pandemic taught us to make events virtual and still engage donors. The pandemic taught me a lot about being willing to try things a different way and that success may not look like what was planned but can still be just as rewarding.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

After an inevitable setback, knowing “the why” helps me get reinspired. Knowing why what I’m doing is important and how it impacts others rejuvenates me. When a course is particularly hard to research and write, I think about all the time I am saving my client from having to go through the same process. I know that setbacks will happen and what I do in response will impact my team, my clients, and the broader organization. So, no matter how bit the setback, I have to pick myself back up and get the work done to achieve our purpose.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

One person who particularly inspires me is Mackenzie Scott. Her philanthropy has had an amazing impact on nonprofits around the globe. Not only does she plan to donate at least half of her wealth during her lifetime, she is making good on that promise faster than any other living person. This shows an unmatched commitment to the nonprofit industry, and she is already making a huge difference.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Readers can find out more about our work at I’m also active on LinkedIn and people can find me at

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.