Back to basics: Reporting to the trustee board

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

Many people break out in a cold sweat when it comes to finance, but deep down they know it's important.

So what reports should your trustees and managers receive? Not 50 pages of tiny figures that no one understands, and not a verbal assurance from the treasurer that "all is well". Both of these are useless.

At the very least, you should have reports that show you the money that has come in and gone out in the period they cover. They also need to show the different funds or activities. It's particularly important to keep track of any restricted funds. You should also be able to see your overall financial situation. You need to show what you've got (bank accounts, cash, other assets) and what you owe (any liabilities) and the overall balances of each fund.

Ideally, you should have a report that compares what has actually happened against what was predicted in your budget, with a written report explaining the figures.

These reports need to be timely. Scheduling your meetings three weeks after the end of the quarter gives your finance people two weeks to reconcile the accounts, produce the reports and then to get them in the post.

Don't accept reports you can't understand. Be brave and ask the obvious questions - I guarantee other people will thank you. The numbers are telling a story, and it's the story that's important.

- John O'Brien is chair of the Community Accounting Network and chief executive of CA Plus

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