NiteLine Dublin is a student-run organisation which has been taking out-of-hours calls from students in crisis for 27 years. Our organisation began as a joint initiative between Trinity and UCD Students’ Unions. Over the years, we have expanded to 6 colleges across Dublin and Kildare, covering more than 70,000 students. As the organisation developed, we moved away from the model of a student society and have striven to increase our professionalism and good governance.
This year, we have put a huge amount of effort into preparing our application for charitable status. We wanted to make sure that we did not see this process as a box-ticking exercise and, instead, used it as an opportunity to re-evaluate our organisational structure and policies to ensure they are appropriate for our growing organisation. We recruited an Advisory Board with expertise in accounting, law, marketing, and strategy to help us improve our governance and prepare the application. This process highlighted a number of areas for improvement, including in the area of financial procedures.
With the support of our Advisory Board, we developed detailed financial policies and procedures. The aim of the policies is to implement robust internal controls, accurate financial reporting and ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Each policy and procedure clearly defines roles and responsibilities to ensure appropriate segregation of duties and approvals. These policies help to shape our existing activities, but also give us a strong foundation to embark on new activities for our organisation such as applying for grants and scaling up our fundraising. Through this process we also developed control accounts which are now reconciled on a monthly basis and approved by NiteLine’s coordinator. This ensures proper books and records are maintained and financial data is accurately stated.
In previous years, we have always looked at our expenditure at the annual level and prepared an annual budget on that basis. This year, our financial advisor supported us to set up monthly budgeting and expenditure-tracking which gives us much more oversight of our finances. While monthly budgeting certainly isn’t a new invention, it’s made a huge difference to our organisation. Instead of waiting to see our surplus at the end of the year, we can see very quickly if we have over- or under-spent in a particular area. We have also broken down our budget into more sections so that we can track our financial activities better.
Our previous method of budgeting kept us looking backwards and basing our future projections on our past expenditure. Any unforeseen expenses were discussed and approved by the committee as they arose. This method was workable as long as new projects were small and rare but limited the ambition of the organisation. This year, we asked each department to give a Dragon’s Den-style pitch for additional funding for any projects they would like to take on, complete with financial projections. This focused our departments and made them feel more comfortable beginning new projects this year. It also allowed us to pre-approve new projects for the coming year and factor them into our budget.
When unforeseen expenses arose before this year, they were discussed and approved with only our past discussions and decisions to act as a guideline. This year, detailed expenses policies were created to provide guidelines for reasonable expenditure of funds to ensure expenditure is not excessive and provides value for money in the furtherance of NiteLine’s objectives. The implementation of these policies and procedures will ensure there is an efficient handover of the financial responsibilities to new volunteers and ensure consistent high-quality financial information.
The process of applying for charity status has improved our organisation immensely. We are delighted to have overhauled our financial procedures alongside creating our Strategic Plan and Business Plan. We are now recruiting for our Board Trustees with a much better vision of the commitment and expertise needed to maintain excellent governance of a nonprofit.