One thing that I have come to learn is that those managing non-profit organisations are often expected to have excellent skills in pretty much everything from media, marketing, human resources, finances, funding, policy development, networking and so much more.
Personally, my weakest point is probably accounting, and yet it is absolutely vital for me to ensure that our organisation’s finances are accurate, well monitored and protected. To do that, I have a couple of fantastic volunteers who more than make up for any gaps in my accounting knowledge. Bringing in volunteers to enhance particular areas of your work can free you up to spend more time doing what you do best.
Every week I have a volunteer who comes in and assists with our day to day accounting. She prepares remittances, does all of our MYOB entries, reconciles our bank statements, does the banking, and collates copies of receipts for our funding accountability reports. This amazing volunteer has been with us for 19 years - I hope she never leaves!
For the bigger picture overview, like most organisations, we have a treasurer on our board. After the end of each month I send our treasurer financial reports, he carefully checks them, looking for areas of concern including variance from our budget. He then reports to the board regarding our current financial position. A vital aspect of our treasurer’s role is to ensure that other trustees understand the financial reports and the organisation’s position.
In some organisations the treasurer is instrumental in setting the annual budget; in others the treasurer will assist the manager or other staff member with budget preparation. Some treasurers also prepare the end of year accounts for audit – it all depends on the size of your organisation.
The role of a treasurer can differ significantly from one organisation to another, and an organisation will need to be very clear as to what the role entails before they recruit. Will the treasurer generally hold a governance overview only, or will they be involved in operations such as applying for funds, providing accountability to funders and the preparation of reports?
It would be ideal to bring on board a treasurer who has good accounting training, and who understands non-profit finances. There are of course plenty of accountants who are keen to give back to the community and may be open to joining a board. An understanding of, and connection with, your ‘cause’ will make for the best match - for any volunteer.
As with any volunteer in any role, I suggest that you do a police check as part of your recruitment, and if you don’t know the potential treasurer, do a reference check also. Remember that this person will have significant input into your financial management, and consequently there will need to a high level of trust.
Having an accountant on my board also gives me the opportunity to ask questions or seek advice from someone who understands non-profit finances, which of course can be quite different to the finances of a business. Your treasurer also can be very useful in reviewing your organisation’s financial policies, procedures, and financial risk levels.
Our volunteer centre finds that there are many nearly, or recently, graduated accounting students who are looking for an opportunity to gain some work experience. Whether you are seeking a volunteer to assist with a short term financial role (setting up systems, reviewing policies, preparing accounts for audit, changing software), or an on-going role such as a treasurer or accounts assistant, contact some accounting firms, your local training provider (university or polytechnic), or of course your local volunteer centre!
If there is an area of your responsibility where you could use some support or expertise, consider bringing in a volunteer with those skills, financial or otherwise.
Heather Moore - Tonic Magazine (Issue 19, August-October 2013)