My experiences as a Tugwi Trust accountant intern
Posted on 06 September, 2019 at 11:15
By Arlene Ngondoma
I started my internship in January 2019 at Tugwi Trust. Tugwi Trust is a charity organisation with a vision to see every child in Zimbabwe realise their full potential. The organisation also seeks to contribute towards a bright future for communities and the nation at large. Since I started my internship, learning has become a habit. I must admit, despite the good grades in university, I was very raw and needed a healthy mix of life, professional and soft skills to enjoy my accounting career. I list below the skills learnt and challenges experienced.
The first lesson I learnt was to the importance of clarifying the purpose of the organization and reflect it in a clear and concise chart of accounts. The chart of accounts should reflect all the major functions and project operations of the organization in a systematic manner. The coding of the account head represents the specific project and its respective income and expenditure. This enables allocation of expenses and income to their respective projects accurately.
Though as a newbie I would secretly sulk at my supervisor’s request for supporting documents, I have learnt that attaching of supplier’s selection lists, invoices and receipts on all payment vouchers is a crucial aspect that I had to practice at all times. As the custodian of funder’s contributions, it is important to ensure value for money in all purchases and give them the assurance that their money is being utilised for intended purposes. Tugwi Trust is not confined within the same geographical area and this has led to a challenge in collecting external supporting documents such as receipts from the schools were Tugwi Trust pays tuition for the children. Due to the importance of this and other issues, the organisation engaged field officer who regularly goes to the schools to collect the available receipts which are then attached to the payment vouchers.
It has come to my knowledge that in Zimbabwe different Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) are using different methods of accounting and reporting as there are no sector-specific accounting and financial reporting standards in the NPO sector. Comparing financial performance of different NPOs is therefore an uphill task. International Accounting Standards board (IASB) does not have specific guidelines for NPOs but states that the available standards apply in respect of commercial, industrial or business activities of any enterprise, irrespective of whether it is profit oriented or is established for charitable or religious purpose. Therefore, application of the accounting standards in NPO sector is pliable.
Due to shifts from a multi-currency economy to a mono-currency one, the application of IAS 21- (Effects of exchange rates) has assisted me in preparing the financial reports for Tugwi Trust in accordance with the environmental changes surrounding the NPO.
I have learnt the discipline of submitting reports within prescribed deadlines. On the fifth of every month, I submit of the monthly management accounts and on the last day of every week, I have an obligation to submit projected weekly cash flows for the following week and actual cash flows of the ending week. This has taught me the importance of planning ahead, being accountable and responsible for my duties such as recording of all financial transactions timely, monitoring and controlling expenditures, satisfying statutory reporting requirements, ensuring timely and accurate financial and management reporting to donors and grant-makers.
The internal control systems, as taught in my second year in Auditing 2 (AC112) and in Accounting Information Systems 2 (AIS205), are the backbone of any organisation, profit making or not. In the NPO sector, internal control systems are particularly important as we deal with donors and sponsors finances. Authorisation of payment vouchers is of great importance. At Tugwi Trust all this is thoroughly practised. There is segregation of duties. Before any payment is processed using the online banking platform, the payment voucher must be approved by the financial manager. Preparation of the voucher and authorisation of the payment are done by different individuals. On all traveling advances given to the programmes coordinators and field officers there must be a traveling expense report that shows liquidation of the traveling advance which must be filled with other traveling expense reports.
I have learned that most of NGOs recognize a grant as income in the year in which it is received. The amount expensed out of this amount is shown as expenditure in the Income and Expenditure Account. While the total amount of grant received is shown as income in the Income and Expenditure account, sometimes these grants have to be returned to the funding agency and the overspent balance can be charged from these agencies, if the agreement between the two provides so. The main advantage of recognizing a grant as income is that the whole income and the expenditure incurred out of this income is shown in Income and Expenditure Account which can provide meaningful information to the user of the financial statement about the activities and spending pattern of the organization. I am also familiar with the concept of deferred income where donors sometimes transfer a lumpsum funds earmarked for multiple-year projects; the portion recognised as income would only be the one for the current period whilst all the amounts for future years will be in liabilities as deferred income. Most grant givers request for a monthly financial and programme report. During my attachment period I learnt how to prepare a monthly financial report on one of Tugwi Trust funded projects and also how to prepare financial reports for the management, the board of directors and for donors.
As a student who has been taught more on profit making organisations than non-profit making organisations, I have been taught and have learned more about the NPO accounting sector. I am keen to learn more about accounting in this peculiar sector 😊.
Arlene Ngondoma is a student studying towards a Bachelors in Accounting degree at the University of Zimbabwe.