Amigos de Santa Cruz are entirely staffed by members of this small, rural community. Without a full-time accountant, the Education Programs Co-ordinator Rosalia takes a lead in this area with responsibility for all outgoing payments and monthly account reconciliation. She has been with Amigos for 8 years but has no formal training in either accounting or bookkeeping.
Amigos de Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, Guatemala
Based on the beautiful Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands, Amigos de Santa Cruz has a local staff of over 20 working to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz la Laguna and surrounding villages. They currently run programmes in the areas of education, vocational training, youth leadership, sex education, nutrition and health.
Amigos had grown quite significantly with an increase in income of nearly 1/3rd in the course of a year, and were in need of a volunteer to assess their processes and controls to ensure they were appropriate in light of their growth and future plans for expansion. Although not accountants by trade, both the Executive Director and the In-country Director had identified the pressing need to strengthen both their financial reporting and budgeting.
Without stronger financial systems being put into place and a better trained staff,it was felt that Amigos would no longer be able to sustain the current number of programmes, severely limiting the impact on local beneficiaries.
Skills and experience
Member of the American Institute of Public Accountants (AICPA)
Highly successful 14-year career in audit with Grant Thornton
Served on the board of multiple not-for- profits.
Matt was looking do something different and more meaningful with his vacation time. His priority when looking at potential assignments options was to ensure that it was a good fit to his proven skills and expertise.
Matt's experience managing the audits of public and private companies both large and small made him a strong candidate for supporting Amigo. He had also served on the board for multiple not-for-profits, giving him some understanding of the challenges facing developing NGOs.
Before his placement Matt was somewhat apprehensive about being the first AfID volunteer to work with Amigos, as he didn't have the benefit of talking with previous volunteers and having access to their reports. However, these concerns were alleviated before departure.
Matt said, "The combination of having phone calls with AfID really helped me to understand some of the specific duties to focus on and what to expect. The phone calls with Amigos prior to heading out helped me better understand their objectives for the assignment and what I needed to accomplish."
What was achieved?
Overall accounting procedures including the use of QuickBooks and expenses record keeping/documentation reviewed.
Assistance provided with organisational and programme-specific budgeting.
Accounting and administrative procedures of both the partner’s shop and cafe reviewed.
Evaluation of the reporting provided to funders.
Matt was the first AfID volunteer to work with Amigos de Santa Cruz and spent two weeks supporting the local team.
Matt first examined the internal processes around cash management to ensure they had proper policies, procedures and controls in place to prevent or detect significant misappropriation of cash. He then looked at more specific policies such as their revised travel and expenses policy which was going to be rolled out to all employees.
Matt worked with the administrative assistant, who is the main person making entries into QuickBooks, on areas of improvement. This included the setting up of recurring transactions, custom reporting and accruals. The budgets were reviewed with the program coordinators and Matt helped develop tools and templates to help in the budgeting process and trained the coordinators of each program in its use.
Through discussions it was determined that the shop and cafe should be treated as separate entities, and Matt provided recommendations as to how these entities should be kept separate from the organisations overall accounting. He also worked directly with the shop and cafe coordinators on future cash flows and budgets for 2016.
As a result of Matt’s placement, Amigos de Santa Cruz are seeing the beginnings of how stronger financial systems together with better trained and empowered staff will build the capacity of the organisation and ultimately improve the lives of the indigenous people.
Communication has improved between finance, programme and management staff.
Finance staff are more confident and better able to carry out their daily functions.
Management and programmes staff have an increased financial awareness and understanding of internal controls.
With programmes staff putting together their budgets for the first time they are able to take more ownership of their programmes.
As part of AfID's long term programme of support a second AfID volunteer, Michelle, will be spending four weeks with the local team. Michelle's role will be to build on Matt's work and implement some of his recommendations as well as monitoring the budget process and new policies. She will also be assessing the sustainability of the newly separated store and café and providing further training to programme co-ordinators. Michelle will also evaluate the merits of moving from a cash to an accrual based system.
It is likely that Amigos would benefit from a further volunteer after Michelle's placement. Through Michelle's feedback and conversations with Amigos, AfID will create a terms of reference and a skills profile for the volunteer that will follow.