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Museum Accounts

On Wednesday 27th February 2013, 25 delegates from across the country came together for ‘Does it all add up?’ an ASPIRE Event looking at how to deal with museum accounts, for non-accountants.

The workshop was delivered by Kath Moss, Charity Consultant at Critchley’s Chartered Accountants, Andrew Noton, Head of Finance at the Ashmolean Museum, and Jossie Austen, Senior Campaigns Executive, Oxford University Museums.

Public Accounts

Kath kicked off the day by explaining the difference between Management Accounts and Annual Financial Statements. 

Kath has been a Charity Consultant at Chritchley's since December 2009. working closely with the Critchleys charity team advising clients on issues such as strategic planning, governance, controls, risk and assurance as well as running tailored training sessions when required. Kath is a trustee of an overseas AIDS charity and an independent member of the Audit Committee of a national disability charity. She is also the director of a grant making trust.

Kath spent some time explaining the narrative report that should accompany the financial statements.  This should include (according to SORP 2005):

  • Reference and administration information

  • Structure, governance and management

  • Objectives and activities

  • Achievements and Performance

  • Financial Review

  • Plans for the future

  • Funds held as Custodian

  • Public Benefit.

She also explained the concept of fund accounting and the "primary" statements, ie. the Statements of Financial Activities (SoFA) and the Balance sheet as well as the notes to these primary statements.

The group then vicariously looked through Annual Financial Reports for a number of museums, published online by the Charity Commission, comparing everything from transparency and clarity to design!

Kath and her colleague Andrew from Critchley's then spoke one on one with individual groups about their specific questions around topics such as valuing heritage assets and when a charity needs a subsidiary trading organisation.

See Kath’s workshop slides here.

Budgeting in the Context of Planning

Next Andrew Noton took to the floor to discuss top tips for planning budgets. 

Andrew has worked at the Ashmolean since July 2006 as the Head of Finance. Andrew qualified with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in 1997 whilst working for Vodafone. During his time at Vodafone he held the position of Management accountant for a Service Provider and Network Accountant with responsible for budgeting and reporting of annual expenditure in the region of £300m. Whilst at the Ashmolean Museum Andrew has held the responsibility for budgeting and reporting of Museum operations and for Capital redevelopment projects.

Andrew recommended to the group a project approval process and documentation to ensure that projects are clearly scoped, they have milestones with clearly defined timetables, there is a clearly defines budget, and clear budget responsibility.

As well as assisting in financial planning, this documentation is designed to ensure that the relevant information has been communicated to all relevant departments to ensure buy in and capacity to deliver.

Download Andrew’s approval process documentation here.

Andrew then discussed with the group activity/project life cycles, from the concept, through initiation, planning, execution, closure and evaluation, including things to do, questions to be asked and documents to be produced.

Andrew paid particular attention to assessing risks, highlighting the key questions you need to ask:

  • What will hinder success?

  • What is their significance in terms of impact?

  • What is the likelihood of them happening?

  • Can plans be made for coping with risks that become issues?

Andrew highlighted that the purpose of risk analysis is to manage uncertainty, but should not be treated as a negative!

Andrew concluded with a Q&A based on his experience at the Ashmolean, during which he was peppered with questions by the delegates, in particular in relation to commercial enterprise.  Andrew explained how he forecasts estimated commercial income based on visitor numbers, conversion rates and average transaction values.  However, Andrew also explained how he does not just look at visitors as a bulk figure, but segments different types of visitors and adjust calculations based on their spending patterns.

More commercial retail tips can be found on our retail event round up here.

Andrew’s slides can be downloaded here.

Setting Realistic Budgets for Smaller Projects

To finish the day Jossie Austen shared her top tips with the group for setting realistic budgets for smaller projects.

Jossie is responsible for fundraising across the University of Oxford Museums & Collections, representing the Pitt Rivers, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the History of Science and the Oxford Botanic Garden & Harcourt Arboretum. She has worked in a series of cultural and educational institutions, including the Ashmolean, MoMA New York and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Holding an MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Jossie has worked in development for seven years planning and implementing fundraising strategies.

Determining realistic project budgets is important to Jossie as a fundraiser, as she must ensure that she asking for the right amount for an activity.  Jossie explained the two key questions she asks when starting to plan a project ‘How much will it cost?’ but also ‘What is the value of the project?’  To determine this she asks Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.


  • Which members of staff will deliver the project? (and should they be helping you plan?)

  • Do you need additional staff? Volunteers?

  • Do you have support from leadership and across your organisation? OR How are you going to secure that support?

  • Who and how many will benefit from the project (directly and indirectly)? What will be the impact on the beneficiaries?

  • Are there project partners?  Can they share the responsibility?


  • What are the key activities of the project?

  • What is the need for the project?

  • What are the SMART aims of the project? (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound)

  • What is the relevance of the project to your organisation’s mission and strategic aims?


  • When does the project start?

  • What is the timescale for completion?

  • When will you spend the money? (important consideration for cash flow and fundraising)


  • Where will the projects take place? (are there associated location costs?)

  • Associated overheads? (including overhead costs can demonstrate value for money)

  • Is there any income that can contribute to the budget, ie. venue hire, admission, philanthropy, retail?

  • Where does the organisation fit in with organisational and departmental priorities?


  • Why is the project important to your organisation?

  • Why now?

  • Why should your Director or Board agree to take the project forward?

  • Why would a funder want to contribute to the project?


  • How are you going to deliver the project?

  • How will you monitor and evaluate the project?

  • How will you disseminate the result of the project once it ends? (or how will you fund the project long term?)

  • How will your project and organisational processes engage your beneficiaries?

Jossie explained how once she has the answers to these questions, she can determine the full cost of a project, including both direct costs (eg. consumables, project staff, new equipment) and associated overheads (eg. office space, utilities, insurance, staff time).  It is important to ensure that appropriate overheads are allocated within project budgets to ensure sustainability and secure core funding.

Finally Jossie shared a cheat sheet of potential costs to ensure you’ve considered:

  • Staff time

  • Equipment and consumables

  • Capital costs

  • Design and printing

  • Premises costs

  • Travel and subsistence

  • Hospitality and events

  • Digital media

  • Insurance

  • Professional fees (consultancy, IT, etc.)

  • Marketing, press and publicity

  • Fundraising costs

  • Recruitment costs

  • Evaluation

  • Inflation

  • Contingency (5-10%, particularly relevant for capital projects)

  • Loss of Value

  • Income – volunteer time, retailing, admission charges, donations, sponsorship, etc.

You can find Jossie's event slides here.

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