Finance is the background to fundraising. We know as fundraisers that we have to – work hard to finance various different projects across the numerous different realms of development, whether this be capital, corporate, trust and foundations or individuals. Hence, all the London arts fundraising fellows knew that this training session was going to be incredibly valid, informative and testing, and we were not wrong.
Led by David Taylor, Head of Business Planning at Cause4, the session began with a conversation to develop the course objectives. The core aim of the day was to provide an understanding about some of the key principles and methods for preparing project budgets, in order to help assess the viability of projects and to assist with funding applications. On a personal level, I wanted to develop more confidence in managing a budget, as well as to gain analytical skills when looking into charity and organisational accounts.
The session discussed the definition of a budget and how they should not be revised every time any possible new information becomes available. We undertook a practical task in small groups, preparing a three year project budget for a fictional foundation from information provided. It was really interesting to see the different figures each group finished up with, and this led to discussions about using data effectively and how there is no ‘correct’ science in terms of set outcomes – as long as the money is budgeted correctly and expenditure is monitored, the outcome should be sustainable.
We covered overheads as well as preparing cash forecasts, and as a group talked through any queries we had and any past projects we may have worked on in relation to financial issues. There was also a separate presentation about VAT which provided a really detailed insight, going through the various different rates and working through that we may encounter in terms of working within the charitable/small businesses sector. As David stated, the theory of VAT operation is straightforward but sometimes the practice can be complicated.
In summary, the training session was a great overview into budgets and finance, which we have all put into practice in various forms since. The key points to take away were:
- Relate the financial figures to project inputs and outputs
- Check completeness, relevance and accuracy
- Ensure that a budget is owned by those responsible for carrying it out and signed off by the appropriate authority
- Think about comparisons that can be made across time periods, as well as commentary to describe the budget and its key features
- Always think about including appropriate contingencies for when things change
And most importantly, always flag any issues as soon as they arise. Confidence is key when managing a budget and being involved within the financial aspects of your organisation, yet equally so is the ability to know when you need advice and to take action.
This session was also very exciting for me as my colleague Christina Hall, Trust and Foundations Co-ordinator at Sadler’s Wells, was able to attend. She worked alongside the Fellows and had this to say about the experience:
There was lots of time for questions, and no question was answered glossing over the detail, and this was a really useful part of the training being with a small group and an encouraging and supportive environment. VAT was also explained in a really helpful way, taking into account the way we are likely to encounter VAT. I have, since the training, been able to put the knowledge I have gained to really good use in the work I have been undertaking with Development finances.
There is more for me to learn about this complex subject, but this was a great start. Thank you!