Whatever you do, whether your group is small, medium or large you have to keep your books balanced.  If you don’t the options are pretty limited and usually include turning off the lights and waving bye bye.  Luckily it’s not rocket science. Here Fiona White, The CEO at Community Lincs, provides some handy hints to help you plan your way to success.

Be aware of your costs and monitor them regularly

It’s amazing how many people start doing things and spending money before they have worked out how much they have to play with in the first place.  Setting and then monitoring budget headings helps you to use funds effectively and reign in spending if you are getting a little ahead of yourself.  It’s all too easy to spend  what you think is necessary only to realise afterwards that you have gone over budget and now you have to recoup it from some other budget area.

Learn from the best and the rest

There is a huge amount of best practice around that you can easily learn from and often it is gathered in one place. For example the Small Charities Coalitionhas some really useful guides and templates and a great range of links to other useful sites. As well as learning about best practice you can also read up on what went wrong and what to avoid through commentary and editorials at sites such as the Guardian VCS network and Civil Society.

Share costs where you can

Although we might all need access to a photocopier, or a server, or a book keeper, it doesn’t mean that we all have to own or employ them. Sharing equipment and staff and even bulk buying tea.  Coffee and loo rolls can all help to keep our costs down.  So why not look around and see who you could buddy up with and don’t forget that back office services such as payroll and admin can often be contracted out.

Budget for things as specifically as you can and avoid the use of ‘miscellaneous’ budget headings

This becomes easier with experience, but if you’re not sure where to start getting quotes for services and capital costs really can help. You could also ask other groups similar to yours if they would be happy to share their knowledge or look over your costs to see if you have missed anything obvious off the list.  Infrastructure organisations like Voluntary Centre Servicesare a good place to ask for this help.

Use people with the right skills

If you haven’t got them, find them – we’ve all heard the expression ‘trying to fit square pegs in round holes’ well trying to get someone to run your finances who hasn’t got the right skills is a case in point. All that happens is that they get stressed and you don’t get the information that you need to manage your group effectively.  This applies equally to the Treasurers role of a small group as it does to the Financial Manager of a much larger organisation. Recent events at the Cooperative Group, which lost over £3.5bn in the past four years show exactly how damaging, failing to address this can be. It pays to be clear about what the role entails and to take the time to find someone with the right experience and qualifications.  No matter what size your group is advertise widely and don’t forget to use the many free options available including your local CVS, on your notice board and in your parish magazine.