How to support emerging groups with their financial management and reporting

Written by Biswa Bhusan Pattanayak and Balaji Nagendran, SAATHII, India

Please describe a real-life problem your organisation has faced on this How To subject.

SAATHII’s mission is to expand access to health, justice and social welfare for communities marginalised on account of HIV status, gender and/or sexuality.

SAATHII started work towards HIV treatment advocacy and LGBTIQA+ rights in India in 2002. As part of our initial mapping, we identified community members and emerging collectives that were keenly interested in peer mobilisation and advocacy for access to health and rights. However, many functioned as informal groups, and required external support to formalise their groups, obtain legal registration, develop documentation skills, and establish the financial and administrative systems needed in order to receive grant support and implement programmes.

How did you work on and try to overcome this problem?

SAATHII’s programme and finance teams worked together with each group to create customised capacity-building strategies, beginning with visioning exercises. Strategies included training and ongoing support in:

  • registration as a charity, when needed
  • statutory compliances needed for receiving grants
  • asset procurement
  • maintaining financial records (cash books, asset registers, stock registers, etc.)
  • fundraising
  • essentials of programme and finance reporting

We gave seed support to informal groups and SAATHII staff provided capacity-building support until the groups became eligible to receive grants.

What did you achieve and what changes were made?

SAATHII has strengthened the financial and organisational systems of 32 community groups in 11 states to date. Over ten organisations were supported in registering and/or obtaining tax-exempt status.

Case study: ETA, a collective of transgender men, lesbians and bisexual women in Manipur state was supported by SAATHII at the start of 2014. It is now registered with the local authorities and has 102 members. It is actively engaged in advocacy and peer counselling support and has lobbied successfully for establishment of Manipur’s Transgender Welfare Board, the first of its kind in the country to explicitly include both trans women and trans men.

What did you learn from this experience?

A one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Each community group has its own needs with varying level of formal education, resources and constraints, which must be considered when providing support. Financial-system strengthening activities must be communicated and facilitated in appropriate language, without using financial jargon. The use of case studies and spreadsheet templates also facilitates learning.  

As staff turnover may be high in emerging and informal groups, one must be prepared to repeat the trainings to properly establish new processes. In addition, facilitate the development of standard operating procedures for financial and human resource management. This will help to sustain the learning and organisational development.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or a similar issue to the one you describe above?

  • Assess needs: Capacity-strengthening organisations need to assess existing knowledge and skills of community collectives, and then identify training and organisational development needs, before formulating plans tailored to each group.
  • Be aware that training alone is not enough: Ongoing support through telephone calls and field visits is important. These should take the form of supportive mentorship visits, rather than monitoring and supervision. Respect the agency of the groups and their members at all times.
  • Encourage healthy financial management practices: Encourage periodic planning and forecasting; joint review by finance and programme teams/staff in each group; developing event-specific budgets; prompt settling of invoices; bank reconciliation; and review of balance sheets.
  • Facilitate visioning and appropriate recruitment: Capacity-building organisations can help board members develop a shared vision, and enable hiring of staff that share this vision.

Biswa Bhusan Pattanayak and Balaji Nagendran, SAATHII, India

Biswa Bhusan Pattanayak, an ally of the LGBTIQA+ community, is Assistant Director at SAATHII. Biswa has over a decade of experience supporting community collectives around issues of organisational development and programmatic implementation. Biswa holds a Master’s degree in Social Work.

Balaji Nagendran, Finance and Administration Manager at SAATHII, has 12 years of relevant experience, including financial system-strengthening of community-based organisations from the disability and LGBTIQA+ communities. Balaji holds a Master’s degree in Commerce.

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