It is very easy as an accountant to lose sight of the big picture. For those of us that work in U.S. or in another country away from the primary ministry as a part of a large organization, we generally work in cubicles, take few if any trips to “the field,” and have little interaction with the ministry of the organization other than anecdotal stories and expense invoices. For those that do work in ministry countries, you may also be living in the capital city, working in a cube, holding a staring contest with a computer monitor.
In our world of Audit Risk Alerts and GAAP compliance, we can easily begin to think that following accounting guidance and producing sleek financial statements is the end goal. We lose sight of the forest for the trees. We push compliance to the detriment of the efficiency of the organization and the sanity of our coworkers. Compliance is important. GAAP must be followed. I agree with both of those statements, and work hard at my organization to ensure that both stay true. But as accountants, and generally back office staff, we must work hard to remember why we are doing this as our visibility is limited.
Our ministry staff are working hard, overwhelmed with the burdens that I’m sure they face on a daily basis. Our organization works internationally, with the poorest of the poor. Our staff work in areas like South Sudan, and the DRC. They are working with child soldiers, starving families, AIDS orphans, and victims of water-born illnesses. In the midst of that they must also file expense reports, donor reports, grants reports, etc. The question I ask is, how do we make this easier for them? What can we do to help them have more time to concentrate on the program work they are doing?
I think accountants have the opportunity to be the most creative people in the organization (and in a good way, not the go-to-jail-for-fraud way) and this is why: Being creative in an open space is easy. It’s easy to “think outside the box” when there is no box to begin with. Therefore, people in marketing and art and design departments of organization often get the credit for creativity. In accounting and auditing, we are in a very constrained box. To develop a truly creative, innovative idea that fits within the box we must use, we must be really creative. We must think creatively inside the box. This higher level of creativity is what gives accountants the opportunity to be the most creative employees.
By being creative in how we work, we can think about the end goal: the ministry and programs of the organization. We can redesign processes, cut out unneeded burden, keep our financials in compliance so there are no unintended consequences, and keep our program workers focused on what they really need to be working on.
In conclusion, I challenge myself and the readers in two things:
(1) Get to know your programs. Invite members of your programs staff to speak to your accounting department. Volunteer in local programs. If possible take trips to field sites. Ensure that you and your staff know what the organization does and what you are all working for.
(2) Be creative. This isn’t something that is usually said to accountants, and it comes with a word of caution. Don’t get so creative that you lose site of the rules and regulations that we must follow. Getting your organization in trouble with auditors or the IRS can greatly diminish the impact of your organization. But find ways to innovate inside the box.