The biggest mistake Treasurers make in financial reporting

I have made a lot of mistakes as a treasurer/bookkeeper/accountant through the years. I’ve been late at filing with the IRS. I’ve fat-fingered some numbers. I’ve missed recording transactions. I’ve doubled up on recording transactions. The nice thing about most of these mistakes is that they usually don’t happen that often and are fairly straightforward to correct.

The biggest mistake I and other treasurers tend to make is forgetting that we are responsible for helping people understand our ministry’s relevant financial information. It’s easy to get into the routine of recording transactions, reconciling accounts, and issuing financial reports. After I hit print or send, I assume that I’m done. Mission accomplished.

Treasurers, accountants, and bookkeepers, we need to keep this in mind: Most of the world does not speak accounting. Most people find a page full of numbers intimidating and confusing…especially when those numbers are finance related. Part of our duty is translating accounting into English for people. Here’s some tips that may help:

  • Use Graphs: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a graph is worth at least a page of numbers. People seem to more naturally understand charts and graphs.
  • Avoid Acronyms: Acronyms are fine among insiders. If you are talking to another treasurer, go ahead and save time with an acronym. You will lose people by overusing acronyms. If you use acronyms, make sure to explain them.
  • Highlights and Notes: If you are working in Excel, highlight in yellow numbers that people need to pay attention to. Include your notes about those highlighted numbers right in your reports.
  • Simplify: If you can summarize a report from three pages to one page, do it. If that can’t be done, what about an executive summary?

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