There are people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to enable JA Canada to carry out its mission every day. Although these individuals rarely see the spotlight, their work is significant in keeping JA Canada moving forward. One of these people is Ed Zdyb, JA Canada’s Director of Finance. He oversees and manages the overall budget, and keeps in check the organization’s revenue and expenses. To shine a light on the importance of Ed’s work and offer insights into the financial workings at JA Canada, he’s written a short blog post about his role, the challenges & opportunities of managing the budget at a charity, the importance of financial reporting & transparency, and the process of establishing a budget each year.
I’ve been at JA Canada for some six months now helping to maintain and improve financial reporting to both internal (i.e. management, committee, Board) as well as external stakeholders (i.e. donors, government, JA Worldwide). With over 40 years of experience, primarily with not-for-profits and charities, I’ve pretty much come across all sorts of reporting challenges. In the case of JA Canada, it needs to keep track of its revenue and expenses in a way that ensures accuracy as well as fiscal responsibility. To do this we use “fund” accounting, which entails separating “buckets” where we track activities according to conditions established by the Board of Directors as well as the donors.
There are accounting rules to be followed – set up by accounting standard-setting bodies like the Chartered Professional Accounting Association – so that there is consistency in financial reporting across all not-for-profits, charities, and associations. This way a stakeholder can have a level of confidence when trying to assess the financial strength of an organization when they are thinking of partnering with or supporting via multi-year contribution agreement. When it comes to organizations like JA Canada, the key element for any accounting department is to be able to use numbers and dollars to report in a way that’s understandable and transparent to all stakeholders…let’s call it “Cents-ible Storytelling”.
The “storytelling” comes into play when working on a budget – be it for a project or for JA Canada as a whole – and then being able to report on whether the project has met its original goals. In most cases, these results are more than just financial. What is usually more important to a stakeholder is whether their donation was used responsibly and that the agreed upon goals were achieved. Such expectations require active involvement of all key JA Canada departments. An effective budget – for a project or otherwise – should be based on a narrative that explains what – and why – undertakings are required (need), what specific activities are required to address the need, who needs to be part of the process (which staff, departments, etc.), how proposed actions will be managed, the estimated costs to achieve desired outcomes, and how results will be measured and reported (beyond simply listing expenses compared to budget).
These storytelling elements exist in the private sector, but the outcomes are usually easier to identify, namely the degree to which a company hit expected profit or profit margins. It’s usually not that simple in the not-for-profit world, as “profit” needs to be measured in terms of expected social benefits. For example, did JA Canada increase youth participation rate in its programs? Was JA Canada able to benefit from increased volunteer support? Is there increased awareness of the JA brand in Canada? Where and how did JA Canada spend its resources (in terms of donations, contributions, as well as its staff resources)? While dollars are important, it’s usually the “Cents-ible Storytelling” that proves to be more valuable.
Director of Finance, JA Canada
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