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Law School Expands Resources Under CFO

EDUCATION: Cindy Bertrand Helps 100-Year-Old Institution Sustain Itself

Cindy Bertrand has been named the CFO of the Year in the nonprofit category of the San Diego Business Journal’s annual awards. She is the CFO at California Western School of Law (CWSL), an independent nonprofit law school dedicated to using the law to solve human and societal problems.

➤ CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL EVENT VIDEO

“Cindy has helped CWSL establish financially sustainable practices that allow the school to fulfill its mission and to modernize and expand its services,” said Sean Scott, CWSL’s President and Dean, who nominated Bertrand for the CFO Awards.

Cindy Bertrand (California Western School of Law) Photo courtesy of Bob Hoffman Video & Photography

According to Scott, Bertrand works closely with the law school’s investment advisors to ensure that, year after year, the law school’s investment portfolio meets or exceeds its stated targets. She has also restructured the law school’s finances to increase resources. This has allowed the law school to increase the number and quality of its faculty, as well as to expand student scholarships and upgrade its enterprise technology and marketing tools.

“Through astute budget management and development of new internal processes, Cindy has laid the groundwork for CWSL to enter its 100th year functioning at its greatest capacity,” Scott said. “Her financial acumen provides the support and guidance that each department of the law school needs to mature and thrive.”

It’s Fun to Stay …

Bertrand has worked in San Diego’s nonprofit space since 2005. Prior to her position at CWSL, she spent nine years as the Vice President of Finance for the YMCA of San Diego County. Here, she supported the organization’s philanthropic efforts, growing revenues to over $200 million. She also helped to establish two affiliated nonprofits to create the Jackie Robinson YMCA and the Copley-Price YMCA, each of which was a $20-30 million building project.

Previously to that, Bertrand served an audit partner with fifth-largest global accounting firm, BDO USA, and as a managing director with the audit group at CBIZ/MHM, where she focused primarily on her nonprofit clients.

Bertrand was also the CFO for the Jewish Community Foundation. Here, she was responsible for managing over $100 million in investments, accounting for eight supporting entities, leading the process for changing accounting systems, developing a new investment policy, and implementing a new investment pool strategy.

Sweeping the Boards

Bertrand has served on several of San Diego’s nonprofit boards, audit committees, and finance committees. Currently, she is on the board of governors, and was the past treasurer, of San Diego Foundation.

Bertrand has served on the boards and committees of San Diego 2-1-1, Orchestra Nova, Nonprofit Management Solutions, and Komen for the Cure.

She also taught nonprofit finances for two years at the University of San Diego’s Master’s Nonprofit Leadership program.

After receiving her award, Bertrand took some time to answer a few questions from the San Diego Business Journal.

The law school’s accounting team includes Heather Kunkel (left), Cindy Bertrand and Luke Glaser.. Photo courtesy of California Western School of Law

Q: At what stage in your life did you set your sights on the CFO’s office?

A: Fairly early in my career. I was the CFO at the Jewish Community Foundation early on and then decided to return to public accounting. I knew that I would return to the CFO role at some point but wanted to work a few more years in public accounting and be better versed in nonprofit operations before doing so.

Q: What put you on the path to getting there?

A: Ultimately, it was my time at the YMCA of San Diego County. I was the VP of Finance and worked for a veteran CFO, Paul Sullivan. He mentored me and set me up for success to be a strong CFO. I learned a lot from him, and I increased my operational knowledge base substantially under his supervision.

Q: Think back over your career. Up to this point, what is the accomplishment you are most proud of?

A: I’m most proud of my work in my current capacity as CFO of California Western School of Law. I have the opportunity to work with the Dean and President, and her leadership team on our strategic plan and have had the privilege of putting it into action. It is very rewarding to see the challenges come to life.

Q: Of all the economics and business issues in the news right now, what are you following with most interest and why? Which one most directly affects your organization?

A: Interest rates and future enrollment in graduate schools, law schools in particular. Both issues may affect our school. Interest rates impact our endowment portfolio and the overall earnings we generate for student scholarships. We strive to award as much in scholarships to our students as possible and when the value of the investments decline, our awards may decrease. We have been fortunate to maintain the same level, or higher, of scholarship during my time with the school. As the U.S. population changes, so do the projections for future enrollment in higher education. Fortunately, our student population is very diversified, and studies have shown that future enrollment in law schools with our unique student population base will likely remain consistent with today’s enrollment.

Q: How big is your team?

A: I oversee several departments, including the Business Office, Human Resources, Facilities and Information Technology. My team is comprised of 20 staff overall, nine of which are with the Business Office.

Q: How difficult is it to hire qualified team members in this employment environment?

A: My Business Office team has been in place almost the entire time I have been with the school. I hired a few positions early on and they are still here. I am fortunate not to have had turnover in my finance team, so I’ve not experienced a challenging employment environment.

Q: What is the next big step your organization hopes to take?

A: The school is converting from a trimester to a semester system. We are also shifting our part time J.D. program to an evening program starting in the fall of 2024. While both initiatives are challenging and exciting, I’m most enthusiastic about the part time evening program. There are many professionals in our community that have full time jobs and are looking for a way to add a J.D. degree to their credentials and this is a way for them to meet that goal and continue working at the same time.

Q: What challenges do you face getting there?

A: Financial challenges were an initial obstacle to converting to the semester system, however we have overcome them and are able to move to the semester system in 2025. We are fortunate to have a solid financial base that allows us to be flexible and support the goals of the school.

➤ CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL EVENT RECAP

➤ CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL EVENT PHOTO GALLERY

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