I love numbers, love, love, love them. Not sure why, but I have always felt there is a beauty and elegance and purity about them. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a troubled relationship: when they just don’t add up, won’t fit, are endlessly elusive or are simply too big or too small or nonexistent.
A big part of managing a nonprofit is to come to grips with the numbers. So many times I see a perceptible shudder when the subject arises, “ I am just not good with numbers, I don’t understand how to do this and what they mean.” No one likes to deal with what frightens or confuses them and I think nonprofits are particularly vulnerable here.
The term nonprofit (And, for the nth time, nonprofit is only a tax status, not a business strategy or plan!,) alone alludes to a less than hard-core businesslike approach to numbers, it’s all about the mission, the passion, not the balance sheet. But understanding and managing the balance sheet are utterly crucial to the ability to deliver the mission. And there is the problem. You want to be out there doing good, making a difference, making an impact. But instead someone, somewhere wants lists of numbers that few others want to see or talk about. How many board members go straight to notes or miscellaneous when looking at the financial statements?
Numbers, balance sheets, profit and loss statements aren’t bad, or ugly, although their message can be unpleasant. Learn to read numbers as words; they distill the activities of your work. Remember that the numbers only describe the story, they are not the story.
Embrace your fear
Decide to embrace what you fear, those numbers can’t hurt you. Don’t wait for them to get too big or small, check in with them on a regular basis, say weekly. The more familiar you become with them, the clearer the understanding and management of them will be for you. Then those numbers can help you make the best decisions and choices for the operation of your organization, based on facts and clarity.
Still unsure, get in touch here or call us on 310 828 6979.
Cindy Lauren is the Principal of Lauren Associates – non profit consulting
As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations.