Helping both sides of the ledger is the ethos of Dunedin Community Accounting, where senior students give free advice to not-for-profit organisations and everybody wins.
The mainly volunteer-run organisations receive help in a field where they lack expertise and the University of Otago students gain valuable experience plus insights into the not-for-profit (NFP) sector.
“Often we’ll say that it’s win, win, win,” says Annette Harrex, a Coordinator at Dunedin Community Accounting (DCA).
“It seems like everyone wins in this situation.”
Since DCA started in 2009, it has equipped hundreds of smaller organisations to set budgets, keep good records, and improve reporting to boards and Charities Services.
Annually about 20 third or fourth-year accountancy students volunteer at one of two weekly sessions, providing advice and practical help under the supervision of a chartered accountant.
These professionals from the community are also donating their time and talents.
“They offer mentorship or just sage advice to the students.”
Annette says the goal is to support NFPs in Dunedin and further afield. Although their annual turnover is small, often they use public money and need to be accountable.
They may rely entirely on volunteers and don’t employ paid accountants, unlike larger charities.
If a group applies for funding, it needs to be solvent and produce legible financial information, she says.
“It’s obviously in the best interests for a group to have their funding in order.”
Many of the queries are from treasurers.
People often don’t have the experience or confidence, even though some are doing well. It’s really just about giving them the opportunity to get some support they usually couldn’t get.”
In 2015, Charities Services’ reporting standards changed.
“It took people a wee while to get to grips with that.”
People may feel daunted, however if they learn how to keep decent weekly or monthly records, then annual reporting becomes easier.
Sometimes a treasurer has been doing the books for many years, using a beautifully- handwritten cash book or electronic Excel spreadsheet.
A new treasurer might have started and DCA can help find a system which is more user-friendly, she says.
A variety of NFPs use the service, including sports clubs and groups working with specific communities, youth, animals, sexual health, the environment or arts and crafts.
Many organisations are struggling to find a treasurer because people aren’t willing or don’t have the time, she says.
“It’s just to encourage them that it doesn’t have to be daunting.”
The other side of the ledger
On the other side of the ledger, students from an academic environment are exposed to the NFP world, which is vastly different to a corporate one.
“It’s helping them to bridge that gap a little bit.”
They’re able to practise dealing with real-life clients, learning how to talk to them and determining what their needs are.
The students also understand potential options for volunteering once they’ve finished studying and have settled in a community.
One student has gone “the full circle”, from DCA volunteering to working as a university accountant and now again serving with DCA, this time as a chartered accountant.
Funding pays Annette and the other DCA Coordinator, Rob Riddell Tìgeir.
A charitable trust, Weave Together, facilitates DCA.
“We’re a non-profit that helps other non-profits,” Annette says of Weave Together.
If you liked this article, join up to our Daily Encourager Media Facebook page by clicking here
For further information:
About Weave Together