There and back again
NoVa nonprofit CFO’s career path crisscrossed nation
Large Nonprofit | Clifford Yee, CFO
Northern Virginia Family Service, Oakton
First-generation college graduate Clifford Yee’s early career took him from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again in a variety of financial, consulting and management positions. Then, at the age of 40, he had a stroke.
It was Mother’s Day 2016 when Yee’s wife recognized his symptoms and quickly got him to a nearby trauma center, where he underwent surgery to repair a carotid artery dissection. Yee had no idea he had this condition, which involves a separation in the layers of the carotid artery and can impede blood flow to the brain. It’s a leading cause of strokes in younger patients.
Months and months later, after extensive occupational therapy, Yee began considering a job change. At the time, he was managing director of corporate social responsibility consulting for Washington, D.C.-based accounting firm Raffa PC, a division of Marcum LLP.
Yee had heard about an opening at Oakton-based Northern Virginia Family Service, a multifaceted nonprofit. With more than 300 employees and annual revenue of about $35 million, Northern Virginia Family Service provides an array of services to economically challenged clients, ranging from early childhood development and housing needs to immigration legal services and workforce development.
“It just made a lot of sense at that time to get out of the corporate sector,” Yee says. “What mattered to me was having a job that had an impact, had a purpose.”
In 2018, Yee became executive vice president and chief financial officer at NVFS, where his work experience is appreciated by supervisors and subordinates alike.
Stephanie Berkowitz, president and CEO of NVFS, says Yee is a roll-up-the-sleeves partner in tackling tough issues. “Cliff is measured, analytical and approachable, all of which make him an exceptional leader,” she says. “He is a lifelong learner, always seeking new knowledge and information, and among his superpowers, he is a natural mentor, always willing to share his time and knowledge with his colleagues all across our organization and with our broader community.”
Business Operations Supervisor Shirley Hayden, who reports to Yee, says, “He’s the first CFO I’ve worked with who really understands the operations side.” Yee is cheerful and a “very good listener,” she adds. “When I’m talking to him about inclusion, for instance, he listens and takes my recommendations.”
Yee’s father immigrated from China, and neither his parents nor their relatives before them had attended college. Yee earned a business degree from the University of Richmond and later an MBA from Claremont Graduate University while working in California.
He calls his early career path “a big zigzag.” Right out of college, he landed a gig as an IT consultant in Richmond and then took a job at Capital One Financial Corp. Next, he moved to the Chicago area to become the associate executive director for his college fraternity. After “three winters in Chicago,” he recalls with a laugh, he moved to warm, sunny
Los Angeles for a financial consulting job.
After his father started having health issues, Yee moved back east to work for Capital One again, holding positions in Richmond and McLean between 2006 and 2015. “The last man I hired at Capital One when I left actually hired me back,” Yee remembers with a laugh.
Yee says his job experience is helpful at NVFS. Being the CFO of a large nonprofit involves “really understanding how to make these connection points,” he says.
About 80% of the organization’s services are funded through government contracts, so “we have to front that money and wait to be reimbursed.” And the pandemic brought its own set of challenges, with the organization handling $6 million in pass-through funds to provide rental and mortgage relief through the federal CARES Act.
“I tell my wife all the time that if I wasn’t constantly challenged, I would probably need to look for another job,” Yee says. ν