Thursday, 15 January 2015

Pop Goes The Weasel . . .

Whilst quantities of “tuppenny rice” or “treacle” may not feature regularly in the average unit’s accounts, it is important for the unit Leaders to know “the way the money goes” – and ensure it doesn’t just ‘go’!

This year, as every year since UK Guiding’s annual subscription and headcount was introduced many decades ago, there have been Leaders across the country who have expressed great surprise at their unit’s bill landing on the mat at the start of the year.  In some cases at the amount, but sadly, in some, it’s surprise that they have received a bill at all.  For the latter, I would suggest that if a Unit Leader doesn’t know it’s coming, then the Commissioner should be feeling at the least twinges of guilt, as perhaps should the mentor.

Please don’t try to ‘play the system’.  For years, headquarters have known that a significant number of units will ‘just happen to’ have a lower membership on 22nd February than a few days before or after, going way beyond the realms of natural fluctuation or coincidence.  Now that each girl has a membership number, it will be easy to spot units whose new starts always begin just after 22nd February, or who often have girls leave in early February but change their minds only a month later and re-join - allegedly!

As far as the amount charged goes, all ‘good’ Counties will make an announcement in September or October (if not before) of what their charge the following February will be, so that units can confirm they will have sufficient funds in hand, or organise any necessary fundraising to cover the gap, in good time.  Whilst waiting for the announcement, units can still assume the rate will be £1-£2 higher than last year’s fee was, and budget accordingly.

However, if urgent fundraising is required for this year’s bill, I’d suggest it’s also time to start planning your finances towards February 2016’s fee.  Are your subs still sufficient to cover all your unit’s regular costs, and allow a little over to invest in the purchase or replacement of unit equipment?  If you usually do fundraising, is that still the way parents wish to muster the needful for the unit, or would they prefer a subs raise?  Have you claimed your Gift Aid, and if not, is it time you did (your Commissioner can source help if you aren’t sure how to do it).

As we are charities, it is important (indeed, it is a legal requirement) that the accounts provide a true-and-accurate record of the unit’s income and expenditure.  Sure, I regularly hear of Leaders who ‘can’t be bothered claiming’ for paper and printer cartridges, store-cupboard ingredients, petrol money for outings, oddments of shopping.  So why do I think all of these charity donations (for that’s what they are) should be properly recorded as an expense claimed, and separately as a donation which just happens to match?  Well, quite apart from the fact that Gift Aid could be claimed on the donations if they were recorded, maybe all the current Leaders can afford to be so generous, but what about the successors?  Might one of your team not be so well off for cashflow as you imagine, but feel uncomfortable about claiming when everyone else is waving it off as trifling?  Might you land someone with the nasty job of taking over the leadership of the unit one minute and having to implement a significant subs raise the next in order just to cover the basic bills?

On the other hand, there shouldn’t be large or growing sums of money sitting in the bank gathering dust.  It’s fine to be saving up for something specific – we all know the price of replacing a decent-quality Patrol tent or marquee these days, or of hiring a bus to take the group to the major region event.  But to have ever increasing sums with no plans to use them is equally unjustifiable for a charity – seek a combination of avoiding any raise in subs for a few years with looking at how best to invest some of the money in useful equipment or worthwhile educational experiences for the girls – subsidise that trip to the science centre or that visit from the dance instructor, buy that laptop projector or colour printer.  Make sure that the money which is donated for the unit’s use, is used to benefit the unit members, leaving only a modest amount of ‘rainy day money’ appropriate to foreseeable eventualities.

Above all, keep an eye on the unit’s money through the year.  You should have a clear idea of just how much “tuppenny rice” or “treacle” your unit gets through, and whether the Weasel in your unit is about to ‘go pop’!

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