Radical Bookkeeping

I had my mind blown yesterday. The topic was “Narrative Budgeting” and it was part of a one-day Non-Profit Summer Camp that I attended in Randolph, VT. I walked in thinking that perhaps I would learn some new techniques for developing a budget for a non-profit that I serve on the board for.

It was taught by Alex Fischer of Open Bookkeeping in Brattleboro, VT — dedicated to social justice bookkeeping. Because when it comes to budgets, historically, in organizations it’s been the people with the most power and privilege who do the creation. The people served by the organization, and often even the staff, have little input.

We make the spreadsheets complex, because historically the numbers have always been presented in certain ways: balance sheet, budget, cash flow. She had one trick that amazed me because it was so simple and so powerful: on your monthly budget spreadsheet, where you view your budget for the coming 12 months, include your forecasted bank balance (cash flow). It means adding only two rows to your spreadsheet, and yet it adds so much information to the budget, answering the question “are there any months in the future where we can see that we’ll have negative dollars in the bank even though our overall budget is in the black?”

Overall, we need to be aware that we are immersed in capitalism and therefore are always coming from a position of scarcity and the need to extract resources. Alex indicated that there are other ways of thinking about finance in non-profits, and generally.

It was perhaps the most wonderfully subversive workshop I’ve ever taken. Alex said that it’s essential to learn the system that we want to dismantle.

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