Need Help Sticking to Tight Budget

Dear Kim,

I work for a grassroots social justice network. We are currently trying to do a better job of making and sticking to a tight budget. We find that we consistently spend money without keeping track of what pool it’s coming from and we don’t have any systems in place to check our expenditures against the money available for them. Do you have any thoughts on an efficient way to do this?

— Just Wanna Have Funds


Dear Wanna,

Accounting is the Achillesê heel of many grassroots organizations. You donêt have that much money, and you know you spent it doing your work. But, as you can see, more is required than having a general sense of how youêre spending the money you raise. To be truthful, keeping track of spending is not my strong suit either. I used to be the executive director of a small organization and I had a sign on my door that said, –Money In” and a sign on the Associate Directorês door that said, –Money Out.” That was not the best method either.

What will be most efficient is to find a nonprofit bookkeeper or accountant and have that person set up a system for you that you can then easily maintain. QuickBooks or other accounting software can be very helpful, and you may be able to set up your books yourself; however, you will still want some outside help to make sure you have thought of everything. Call your local volunteer center or technical assistance provider and ask for recommendations of good people. Keep in mind that there are two things you want to do with your accounting: first, as you mentioned, you want to keep track of expenditures in a planned and efficient way; but you also want to be able withstand any scrutiny by the government, a foundation or an auditor. That means that not only can there be no impropriety, but there can be no appearance of impropriety or incompetence.

Get on this sooner rather than later.
— Kim