Back to basics: Scenario planning can help with tough choices

John O'Brien's monthly guide to getting the simple things right

John O'Brien, chair, Community Accounting Network
John O'Brien, chair, Community Accounting Network

In my spare time, I act as treasurer of a small charity supporting homeless people in Nottinghamshire. Although we tick a lot of 'big society' boxes - local project, loads of volunteers and so on - the reality is that most of our funding for support services will probably disappear very soon. So at a finance meeting last week it was time for some scenario planning.

We used a spreadsheet system to look at the financial picture by asking "what if?" a number of times. With a fairly simple spreadsheet, it's possible to look at the impact of changing someone's hours of work, removing a post or two, even removing a project or two. You can also look at combinations of assumptions.

As we move towards our new financial year, we will have better information and so be able to consider the more likely scenarios.

We obviously need to think about our reserves. It might be possible to ride out the storm, at least for a while. We also need to make sure we've considered our sources of income, both existing and new.

At some points along the way, we might need to make some tough decisions. We know that this will have a big impact on people's lives down the line. It's important, therefore, that we make considered decisions based on good information.

The alternative is to keep our fingers crossed, wait until some cheques start to bounce and then panic. But this isn't the banking crisis we are talking about here!

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

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