There are bad jobs and then there are bad jobs. And I know I’m being a little dramatic. But the worst job in the world is volunteer treasurer of a charitable organization. Those of you who have had the occasion to fill that role are nodding your heads, trying not to laugh. You know I’m right.
The treasurer’s role is thankless. The only thing you can do is screw it up. I’ve had the pleasure to meet a number of outstanding treasurers. They are priceless; the most valuable member of the Board. To do the job properly, they put in countless hours. All the “feel good” work is done by others. And, given my profession, while financial statements generally turn me on and are essential to the proper operation of a charity, most people couldn’t care less. The treasurer is only notable when the entity’s financial situation tanks and the rank and file are looking for a body to burn at the stake.
There are a number of excellent non-financial road signs that tell the organization how it’s doing. Unfortunately, there’s no replacement for an accurate, timely and adequately descriptive balance sheet and income statement. While not everyone can divine from the numbers the direction the entity is headed, there are still plenty of folks who can. Financial statements are irreplaceable (as are the people who can read them).
Here are some of the operational problems being a treasurer.
The first is you really need to understand accounting and how to read a financial statement. Some organizations are large enough to employ a bookkeeper or even an entire accounting department; some, not even a part-time bookkeeper. Our clients fall somewhere in between.
Unfortunately, even a rudimentary understanding of accounting is often inadequate to properly account for transactions that are unique to Not-For-Profits. Such items as permanently and temporarily restricted accounts create a level of complexity way beyond the normal accounting for commercial enterprises.
Our shop uses QuickBooks as an accounting platform. Even if you understand the ins-and-outs of accounting, the next hurdle is figuring out how to use QuickBooks to accomplish your goals.
So, there are three obstacles your incoming treasurer needs to overcome:
- The debits and credits of accounting;
- The unique aspects of Not-For-Profit accounting, and
- The use of a computer-based accounting system to handle it all.
If your organization is large enough, you can hire someone like us to provide various levels of accounting assistance. In addition to paying bills, invoicing and reconciling bank accounts, such services might also include collections (not a happy thing to do) and help with the annual budget (these days, also not a happy thing to do). The outside services you acquire can range from bookkeeping all the way to audit support.
The idea isn’t to eliminate the treasurer. Rather, it’s to make the treasurer’s job realistic and reasonably palatable in view of the inherent miseries that go along with it. The treasurer’s role in the scheme described above is to assure the work of outside contractors is properly performed in a timely manner. More importantly, it’s to derive from the accounting system useful management information as to the financial condition of the entity. Believe me, even without the bookkeeping, there’s enough work being the treasurer to fill a waking day.