Ethics and Governance

How Chartered Accountants can help charities during COVID-19

May 14, 2020

How can charities, especially smaller ones, deal with the many challenges they are currently facing? Kathya Rouse identifies key areas where accountants may be needed to help charity clients.

Like everyone else, charities are struggling to come to terms with their new normal. The unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, and uncertainty around the short-term outlook, makes planning for the future exceptionally difficult. Some charities are continuing to provide ongoing services, while other charities are operating limited or no services due to the current government restrictions. It seems likely that some level of social distancing will be in place for some time and many charities will need to come up with new ways to continue/recommence providing their services while adhering to the relevant government restrictions.

Amid all this uncertainty, how can we, as accountants, help? Many smaller charities do not have the expertise among staff or trustees to deal with many of the challenges they are being faced with. We are more than “just” accountants to these clients – we are their trusted business advisors who can be relied on to provide independent advice. I have identified a few areas where you may be needed to help your charity clients:

Provide a sounding board and listen to their concerns

Despite many similarities between charities, each one will have different requirements right now, so aim to provide a bespoke solution for each charity.  

Encourage them to develop a contingency plan to guide them through planning for their organisation during the life cycle of the current pandemic

There are various free templates and guidance issued by some of the main charity sector support organisations, such as The Wheel and The Carmichael Centre, which you can direct clients to. The contingency plan should be a live document which remains under regular review.

Advise charities around their governance requirements and their AGM

There is conflicting advice around whether AGMs can be held entirely virtually under company law except where specifically allowed by the company’s constitution. You can play a key role in helping the charity figure out its position re quorum and use of proxies to overcome this hurdle.

Get involved in the budgeting process

Budgeting has never been more important, and you can provide your expertise through assisting in, or reviewing, the budgeting process. Like the contingency plan, the budget should also be a live document updated regularly.

Empower the trustees

Empower the charity trustees to make decisions around whether they can use their current accumulated reserves to make up for a temporary deficiency in resources by assisting them to ascertain their restricted and unrestricted funds.

Stay up-to-date

Ensure you stay on top of the various funding streams available to charities, such as the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the new €40 million COVID-19 support fund, and make sure to keep your clients abreast of any available funding.

Keep up to date with ongoing regulatory, professional and other guidance which may be of use to your clients. Chartered Accountants Ireland have collated a list of various guidance documents which are available on its website and is open to everyone, not just members. Make use of any reputable free resources available to you and your clients.

Kathya Rouse is a Partner at McMoreland Duffy Rouse and a CA Support Board member.