579: When Your Two Worlds Become One | Shari Freedman, Room to Read

Listen to the Episode Below (00:53:30)

At several points during the early years of her finance career, a tug-of-war was seemingly under way between the professional and personal worlds of Room to Read CFO Shari Freedman.

Back in the early 1990s, Freedman was running a homeless shelter in New York City while at the same time boarding flights for a string of international assignments on behalf of her then-employer, Pepsico. In 1995, when she relocated to San Francisco with apparel retailer Gap, she became involved with a workforce development organization dedicated to helping the unemployed and was soon asked to join its board and serve as president.

“I love being engaged in my communities,” says Freedman, who left behind a decade of corporate career-building in large enterprise organizations at the turn of the new century to become a leader and board member of a mission-driven organization.

By 2014, having held multiple leadership roles in such entities, Freedman had decided that it was time to draw her professional and personal goals ever closer.

Thus she created a five-year plan for herself, a formula designed to help her make better decisions as she sought to steer herself to those opportunities capable of opening new doors.

“At that time, I specifically wrote that I wanted to work for an organization that was mission-centric and making a meaningful difference in the world, and I also wrote that I wanted to build a portfolio of girls (students) whose education we support and sponsor as a family,” says Freedman, who likes to label herself as “a planner” and credits planning and goal-setting as central components of both her personal and professional worlds.

Says Freedman: “That goal-setting actually allowed me to narrow my decisions as to where my career would head and led me to Room to Read as their CFO. –Jack Sweeney

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Guest: Shari Freedman

Company: Room To Read

Connect: www.give.roomtoread.org

Headquarters: San Francisco, CA


CFOTL: What are your priorities as a finance leader over the next 12 months?

Freedman: Here at Room to Read, we’ve just launched our 2020–2025 strategic plan, of which one of the core parts is the continued build of our financial sustainability. I’m super excited and proud that we are launching a five-year, $10 million initiative—we’re calling it a Future Fund—to which we’re asking our donors to contribute. In addition to funding our day-to-day programs, we’re looking to build out funds that will be unrestricted and allow us to get to six months’ operating expense coverage, which is best-in-class. This would allow the organization to really build out its operational reserves to give us the wherewithal to weather ups and downs in the financial markets as well as to take some small risks with innovation to try some things out, test some things—to learn quickly and, if necessary, to fail quickly, as our board says—and to then adapt. Having those extra months of operating coverage will really make a difference for us.

My own organization has a leadership role in this, in partnership with the development team. We’ll be talking to donors and working with all sorts of organizations to describe the need for having that kind of operating expense coverage to give us real sustainability for our future.