Ways to demystify finance in your charity

Ways to demystify finance in your charity

‘Finance’ can be an off-putting word for non-financial managers – all too often it means complex terminology, processes and reports. And without the right support and training, managers shy away from financial responsibility because of a fear that they can’t understand it.

But financial management shouldn’t be the preserve of the finance department. Making sure that a charity remains resilient and sustainable is a collective responsibility across the whole organisation, and strong financial management is a fundamental part of this.

As a sector we need to support our operational teams to build their financial awareness and empower them to take on some financial accountability. This article addresses a number of steps you can take to remove the fear that people feel when it comes to finance and make the processes and reports more accessible to all. If you master this you will take a giant step forward in bringing the charity closer together and setting yourself up to thrive.

1.     Simplify the language you use

The language used by the finance team can be confusing and off-putting to say the least. So the first step towards making finance accessible across the organisation is to remove the jargon. For example, forget the terminology of debtors and creditors and simply say ‘people that owe us money, people we owe money to’. It may seem too simple but we learn better as individuals if we can relate to what we are being told so present the terms in language that a non-finance person uses.  Go a step further and remove the terminology from your meetings and reports, and sense check communications from the finance team with people in the wider organisation to make sure it is user friendly.

2.    Create a real partnership between finance and operational teams

If there is a specific person in the finance team that supports your department, invite them along to regular team meetings, from operational reviews to budget setting meetings. The finance team will gain a greater understanding of the department they support, both in terms of strategy and language used, and the operational team will benefit from the invaluable insight they can provide for decision-making and strategy development. 

This will go a long way to bridging the gap between finance and operational teams, and lead to a greater understanding and appreciation on both sides.

3.    Communicate the positive aspects of financial management

All too often finance teams are seen as ‘No’ people! It’s true, their role is to ensure that the organisation’s income is carefully monitored and managed but equally it’s about ensuring that the charity achieves its charitable aims. This is a shared objective across the whole charity and all departments need to be reminded of this common goal. So take time to highlight and report on the positive outcomes that have occurred as a result of strong financial management in your organisation.

Have budget savings in one area enabled you to start a new project elsewhere or further supported a key initiative of the charity? If so, share this news with the whole charity and congratulate them on working together to manage the charity’s finances so effectively. The wider organisation will start to see that rather than trying to take away money necessarily, the finance team are helping to ensure that it can be redirected to where it will be most impactful.

4.    Invest in training for your non-finance staff

Finance teams may be seen as the purse strings of an organisation but it is the budget holders that are responsible for ensuring that every £1 of the funding a charity receives is spent effectively. Non-finance managers need support to build their financial awareness and understand the impact that their role has on the charity as a whole.

The right training course should help them to understand financial management in the context of their own role, and leave them feeling motivated to meet their financial tasks. To achieve this it needs to be interactive, relatable and above all fun, so that they leave the course feeling empowered.

5.    Make your reports visual and accessible

Management reports are typically number heavy and this can be overwhelming to a non-finance person. It can also often fail to highlight the true meaning of the information being presented. Financial reports need to be given more context to become truly valuable to a non-finance manager.

By adding graphs and visual aids to regular reporting, you can help mangers to interpret the data and really understand what is driving the performance of their team.


If you would like support in strengthening your finance function or training your non-finance staff please do get in touch on nishka@visualfinance.co.uk

Nishka Smith

Consultant &Trainer – Visual Finance  www.visualfinance.co.uk

Best practice for trustees


This is a great article on the steps to take when you become a trustee, to ensure that you make a meaningful and informed contribution to the Board. As a new trustee myself, these tips are particularly timely. But the idea of training has given me food for thought, particularly in the field of financial management.

An essential role of the Board is to maintain a strong oversight over the organisation’s resources and ensure they are spent in line with the charitable aims. A successful board has a range of skills and expertise to fully support the charity - but does this mean that all board members have a strong financial understanding? If the board is to be accountable for the financial viability of an organisation it’s important that they are given the right level of support to meet their responsibilities - from how to read the financial accounts they receive, the terminology used and financial risks to be aware of.

This is definitely an area of training I’ll be looking into going forward so watch this space!