Most finance staff don't interact with beneficiaries all that often. Most field staff don't feel very comfortable with finances. Presenting financial information to beneficiaries requires finance and programme staff to work together as a team and step outside their comfort zones.
Who should do it?
- Finance staff needs to provide the appropriate figures (see content below)
- Programme staff will need to advise on the appropriate presentation style
NGOs might consider making finance staff responsible for providing financial reports to local communities. This can provide a useful segregation of duties between programme staff and finance staff.
How should it be done?
Financial reports must provide information that is:
- useful for users, and
- in a style that is easy for users to understand.
www.listenfirst.mango.org.uk, developed by Mango and Concern, is packed with useful practical resources.
The following guidelines set out some principles which can help achieve this when preparing financial reports for beneficiaries. NGO staff will need to consider how to apply the principles in the different circumstances they face.
Reports should be provided in a language that as many beneficiaries speak as possible, and ideally in their mother tongue. Short reports are normally easy to translate. The goal is to help all beneficiaries understand the financial position, not just a handful of representatives.
The aim of reporting to beneficiaries is to help people understand what has been spent on their behalf. So content should be relevant to local people, about the specific activities that NGOs have carried out on their behalf. Simple reports which show expenditure compared to the budget often work well.
- Which expenditure?
Expenditure can be summarised by activity, or by geographical area, or by budget line – or by some combination of these. The total budget for each activity, area or budget line should also be shown against the actual expenditure. Good practice suggests that full project costs should be made available. However, it may not be practical to publish sensitive salary information. A report setting out direct project costs is likely to be much better than nothing.
As a rule of thumb, each financial report should have no more than 15 lines of information: more lines make reports confusing.
Frequent reporting enables beneficiaries to learn and practice how to read and interpret financial data. Up to date reporting also means the NGO gets timely feedback and input, while memories are fresh and there is time to take actions as needed. As a rule of thumb, reports should be presented monthly, or at least quarterly.
Reports should be presented in local currency.
Normally, NGOs should aim to make financial reports publicly available at the community level. Reports can be written up on white-boards or flip-charts which are publicly displayed at NGOs’ offices, health centres or distribution points. Paper copies of reports can be made freely available at the same places. Some NGOs have published summary reports in newspapers and other local media.
- Financial information can also be presented visually, using simple graphs or charts which people may find easier to understand than numbers.
An Australian organisation, Littlefish, has developed a very clear and effective way of presenting financial information graphically called 'The Money Story'. See www.littlefish.com.au/web/money_story.html
See a short video about The money story.
Financial reports can be regularly presented to communities at community meetings, or to community leaders at project management meetings. This creates the opportunity for questions and all important feedback.
In general, the more open an NGO can be with its financial information, the better. After all, this is money that an NGO has collected on behalf of local communities and which it aims to spend on communities’ behalf.