I need to be more grateful of my “Over-Worked” and “Under-Appreciated” finance calendar. I gain comfort from its content and a sense of order from its structure.
I always assemble an annual finance calendar for each organization I work with to give me a global look at the “key” dates that affect the flow of information through the finance department. What was unexpected was how many other uses I have found for my finance calendar. Before I explain these many uses, let’s first explore purpose, form, structure, and content of a finance calendar.
The overall purpose of the finance calendar is to provide a comprehensive listing of the key deliverable dates where input from the finance department is essential. These of course include any meeting where financial statements are in use (board meetings, finance committee meetings, investment committee meetings, etc.) and where critical external filings rely on financial information (federal form 990, charitable solicitation filings, business licenses, etc.). These purposes, although easy to identify, miss the most productive use of financial information which involves getting financial statements and reports to management and staff on a regular basis so financial assets can be efficiently managed in support of mission.
The form I like to use best is a simple word document that is easy to edit and share with others. I have also found it convenient to use excel in various columnar formats where you can get more creative with the structure. There are also numerous calendar and task programs available that work well for sharing the information with many people.
There are two basic structures to follow driven either by content or date. I prefer the content organized format because it better allows you to quickly find major tasks and deliverables. The content format also allows you to see all the steps in a task which is especially helpful for a complicated task like preparing a budget for the next fiscal year where there are multiple steps spread out over a number of months. The advantage of using a date-based structure allows you to better anticipate and manage workload requirements. Tasks and due dates often overlap. A date-based structure allows you to view all tasks and deliverables on a month-by-month basis.
Content of course is the key. The finance calendar that has comprehensive content will be the most useful. Organize your content into primary and secondary deliverables. Primary activities regularly occur and are essential to operations and governance. Secondary activities occur less frequently and usually involve less management, staff and leadership. The following chart separates primary and secondary finance calendar content:
The finance calendar is extremely useful to the personnel in the finance department. In addition, it is also a useful tool for distribution to many others. I like to make the finance calendar available to the following groups of people and how it can positively impact fulfillment of their duties:
- Managers and Staff – the finance calendar helps them to look ahead and gain a global view of major financial cycles (budgets, year-end audit, 990, etc.) and better plan their own schedules around the times when their input is needed (budgets, projections, employee performance evaluation, etc.).
- Officers – as key fiduciaries of the organization, the finance calendar allows them to keep an eye on the flow of financial information and fulfill their “Duty of Care”.
- Other Board Members – helps them to gain comfort that the organization has a complete plan of action to manage finances and meet accountability and transparency best practices.
- Finance Committee – the finance calendar becomes their unofficial agenda for the year.
- Independent Auditors – a well-organized finance calendar demonstrates a healthy respect for internal controls and shows a commitment to enhanced compliance.
- Investment Committee – uses the finance calendar to observe financial cycles and governance oversight from a distance to help them to fulfill their charge and timely report to the board of directors.
The finance calendar is amazingly useful. Preparing one helps to boost your internal control system and provides a measure of stability to the many activities, tasks, and deliverables that require financial information and interaction with your finance department and accounting systems.