Are there any auditors/accountants in SE1, who would be willing to be volunteers to audit the books of our new community action group? The books are being done on a Sage accounting package and all the bookkeeping will be done and up to date.
In return, we will place your name in our newsletters, on our website and will have a link to your website if you like from ours. We already have been notified that we have been successful in our application for funding from three areas.
What's your group? What do you do? Do you have a (rough) idea of turnover/headcount etc? Have you had anyone filling this role before (i.e. is there a backlog to be caught up with)? How much time are you looking for from someone? What sort of level do you want someone at? Do you need a registered auditor - i.e. someone who's allowed to sign accounts in their own name as having been audited?
Anyone thinking of volunteering would want to have some idea of the answers to these questions. (Depending on the size/time requirement), I may not be the man for your job, but I'd be v happy to help you find someone who can do it. (Again, depending on size/complexity, etc) a very good way to get this sort of thing done is to approach one of the big a/c firms and get in touch with their community/charity support function (everyone has one - it makes them look caring). They do a lot of fitting people to voluntary things like this.
Happy to talk through a few of the issues with you. My group is lucky in that it has no fewer than three qualified accountants on its committee. (Don't say we are boring!) But time is a real issue. Monitoring returns for grants take an age. I spent four hours last weekend, the sunny one, sorting out one SRB return. I was given less than a week to complete it and was told that there would be clawback (eg a demand for £10,000 to be returned) unless I met the deadline.
If you are looking for someone to do bookkeeping and returns you will need to find someone who is genuinely committed with a reasonable skill level, or you need to build an element of administration costs into your funding applications and pay someone. There are some people who will provide this service. In Lambeth LVAC have a community accountant, or you might be able to persuade a better resourced local group to keep your books for you for a small fee.
On auditing we have built a clause into our, otherwise standard, constitution to say that our books will only be audited if receipts are above £20,000 in a year, but that our books are available for inspection on request. (We would need to change this if we went for charitable status, but at the moment this is not on the agenda.) We currently have fewer than ten bank entries a year and no funding for core costs, so paying for an audit would be mad. We have two cheque signatories, and I am not one. Plus we try to ensure that grant monies are paid directly to suppliers and so don't hit our accounts. (Since we can't reclaim VAT this also helps make the grant go further.) So of the £10,000 grant for which I had to do the monitoring, we only saw £150.
The only other advice is to plan ahead. Difficult when you don't see the actual monitoring forms till the last minute. But keep all the receipts you can lay your hands on. If you are required to proivide match funding make sure all volunteers sign for their time as they give it and that any donations are logged. And try and keep track of beneficiaries, ideally with their post codes if SRB and ethnic group (most of the kids on the Archbishops football scheme automatically claim to be 'ethnically' British even though it is a very mixed group, which is fine by me but not by funders), or do a head-count and take photos to support it. Plus plan how you would provide evidence of any other promised outcomes and make sure you get it.
My own view is that far to much good voluntary time is spent on bureaucracy, but then its late, the people across the road are holding a loud party and I'm ready to rant!
Thanks for all your help - you are truly great friends! The actual book-keeping will be done by ourselves (me in fact) - it would just be to audit and agree the Balance sheet/profit & loss account. In my last job, I was Financial Controller, so there would not be a lot to do. I have already set up the accounts and will be monitoring them on a day to day basis - no month end stuff and everything will be filed and in order - all invoices, receipts, funding received, etc. The group deals with mainly sporting activities for kids but we have been involved in planning issues and many other things going on in the community. Two of our committee are going on that Walks training session, the walks of which will be beneficial to people of all ages
We have no idea of the turnover yet, although we have a definite £10k coming in funding. Headcount at present is just the main committee - three of us. We are all voluntary, so no wages. All costings will be on an invoice basis.
Someone's time would probably take the very most half a day every quarter. Probably only an hour. Preferably looking for a recognised firm.
I take on board your advices to contact Price Waterhouse - I will try them and see what they are saying.
Sarah, your advice is brilliant - thanks. Hope to see you again soon. We will be getting our first newsletter out soon, anyone interested in having it emailed?
The skill levels and effort needed to start and maintain a community group which is acceptable to funders are astonishing. You wuld think that these funds were meant to encourage and facilitate community involvement but......
One example is being turned down by the WCRT community board for not having enough community linkages when our group was a member of no fewer than 10 different fora. And this was for money to provide kids sports in Archbishops. A real lesson in the fact that whatever you do you will never please some people. There are no ground rules for what community groups should be, but you can be sure that others will have strong ideas of what you should do and how you should do it. That said for many grants you are going to need more than three Committee members and some strategy for encouraging wider participation.
It particularly bugs me when community workers act as if they are doing you a big favour by granting you the money, when actually you are the one giving your time and helping them by helping them meet their spend, output and activity targets. Plus with sports and stuff you are probably not a direct beneficiary.
When we started we had lots of help from other emerging groups, including Friends of Vauxhall Park, Friends of Lambeth Walk Open Space and Friends of Durning Library. For me one of the best things about this supportive network has been the help I have had in coping with the inevitable two steps forward, one step back progress. (For a long time it was one step forward, two steps back...)
Do get in touch. I would be happy to talk through things and share any experience that might be helpful. One of the best things abut putting my head above the parapet has been the number of interesting and good people I have met. Who, when I think about it, make up for the sad few who think that community involvement is a chance to play power and politics.