Introduction to Budgets and Finance led by Rosemary Spencer. Paint by Numbers – Balancing your figures tells a story

By Amanda Rigali on

LiziThe 2014 Fundraising Fellows have now enjoyed a month working for their host organisations. Earlier this month, the London and South West cohort had the excellent opportunity to meet at the Cause4 Offices. We enjoyed two days of in depth induction and training, getting to grips with our intensive training schedule and shared insights into how each of our host organisations compare and contrast.

Following from the Introduction to Application Writing session, Cause4’s Head of Finances and Resources, Rosemary Spencer, led the Introduction to Budgets and Finance. The Introduction to Application Writing focussed on the etiquette and clarity of concise communication needed in composing bids to trusts and foundations. The Arts and Business Private Investment in Culture Survey 2011/12 demonstrate that trusts and foundations contribute just over a quarter of the total private investment in the arts and are to be one of the key focus points for the fellows this year. Inevitably trusts, foundations and investors will want to see a breakdown of your budget and accounts as part of your application.

Rosemary’s Introduction to Budgets and Finance demonstrated the need for clarity and concise communication in relation to numbers; your budget is a central part to the narrative of your bid. You want investors to trust in your aptitude to deliver and your budgets and accounts tell the story of your competency.

Working in pairs in an illuminating exercise we input the data from a mock bid into a readily prepared spreadsheet formulated to calculate totals of income, expenditure, overheads and funding required. Startlingly, no two pairs came up with the same answers. There are many reasons for this that all help to illustrate some of Rosemary’s benchmarks for good practice such as authorship, commentary, assumptions and context.

Authorship

The mock bid was new to all of us, and as such the only knowledge we had about the project and the organisation was on the hand-out. When compiling a project having deep insight and understanding of the project allows you to take authorship or ownership of the figures to ensure that they are clear, correct and complete. Interpreting the information on the hand-out was difficult and had this been a real life exercise we would have wanted to ask many questions to ensure that our interpretation of the figures were correct. This is significant, because you want to ensure that your funders will interpret your budget as you intended.

Commentary

Thus including a commentary is key. This means clearly labelling what the figures represent on the spreadsheet. This may mean including full sentences of explanation. Communication is key both within your team and when requesting funds. Returning to the benchmark of authorship, you want to ensure that before sending your budget out to funders that you have checked that others within the team agree with what it is communicating and then get it approved.

Assumptions

Integral again to your clear communication is the inclusion of assumptions. Your budget is there as part of your planning process, to ensure that your project is financially feasible. Rosemary explains that critical assumptions include “start dates, key prices, resource availability, inflation rates etc.” They are concise statements that articulate your story. Importantly “(a)s real life intervenes any departure from the budget can be (partly) validated by examining the impact of changes to the critical assumptions.” This is central to your evaluation of the project which will enable you to learn and improve.

Context

Last but not least is clearly explaining the context of your budget. Is your budget telling the story of one project that fits within your larger organisations aims? Or are you budgeting for your organisation as a whole on an annual basis? This needs to be made clear, with distinct labels and explanations. Without this context the story you are weaving may be without plot, without meaning. To gain a funder’s trust they need to understand what you are asking for. Regardless of the art form your project is funding, you want realism in the numbers that your budget paints.

In conclusion, Rosemary made it very clear, that budgets should never be an afterthought. They are central to the planning of your project in assessing its feasibility, and they communicate the strength of your planning and your ability to achieve your goals.

More painting to do…

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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