Back to basics: managing your finances

Tips from John O'Brien, chair of the Community Accounting Network

If you manage your finances well, you are more likely to be an effective organisation.

You can look at the finances in three parts, and you need to know that each of these is operating as planned.

First is administration. This includes keeping track of the petty cash tin, making sure people pay you, keeping the books and files up to date and reconciling figures with the bank. Your financial procedures should set out what needs to be done, when and by whom.

Next is management. It's fine having nice accounting records, but you need to go beyond the numbers.

What are the figures telling you? You need to make sure the reports are accurate, and to interpret the figures. At the heart of this is comparing what's happened to the initial plan or budget and explaining it. Looking forward is also essential. Many small groups make the big mistake of expecting administrative staff to do this. My advice: never employ a chief executive who says "I don't do money".

Finally, there is oversight. In many organisations, this is the role of a treasurer - not to do the work, but to make sure that it happens, to ask the questions and to hold people to account. In very small organisations, the unfortunate treasurer might do all these tasks. That's not ideal, but sometimes it's unavoidable. In larger organisations, there are no excuses. If any of this causes you concern, put it on the next agenda.

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