With an eye towards improving our accounting practices and operational efficiency, in 2008, Burning Man’s Accounting Department has been (and is still) conducting an ongoing review of the department, its processes and systems, including interactions with the purchasing and human resource functions of the organization.

Simultaneously, the team took on additional functions, including the management of employee hiring paperwork, and insurance screening for drivers. Additionally, we have engaged in a persistent effort to streamline our interaction with the Nevada sales tax agency.

And given our overwhelming workload, we finally accepted that it had grown to exceed our capacity and brought in some temporary help to augment the efforts of our small staff.

There remain several areas needing operational improvement, including contract management, timeliness of reporting, accuracy of submissions to accounting and HR, vendor management, controlling charge accounts, and handling of last-minute requests. In order to better understand spending and budgeting, the team is investigating online SAAS products that might bridge inherent time lags in reporting of real-time spending.

On the banking front, 2008 saw the reconciliation of several bank accounts, the instituting of electronic payments, verification and booking of incoming funds, and the closing of an account due to check fraud.

The Accounting team converted a part-time staff person to full-time to augment the departure of another staff member in 2007. This move consolidated the process flow somewhat by bringing it under the purview of a knowledgeable member of the Accounting group. This role is more than it would be in a traditional organization, in that there is much shepherding involved to assist department managers and staff with paperwork. (Such is the nature of Burning Man that bureaucratically-minded people are not necessarily attracted to the organization.)

As the organization continues to grow, the amount of work required to handle the payroll also increases. It’s a huge challenge to track, input and run bi-weekly payrolls as well as payrolls timed to several special events. This is an area we will be looking at improving in 2009.

Members of the department serve as unofficial liaisons to suppliers and contractors in ways that go beyond standard Accounts Payable activities. The Burning Man Project does its purchasing in a very decentralized fashion, which means we get to help out in ways that would otherwise fall to a central Purchasing Department. An example for 2008 was rental vehicles. The Project sources vehicles for playa operations both through a DPW-managed process and individual departments. In 2008, a department had a new need for vehicles and went searching for a new source for them. They found one, but then needed support and guidance to make the deal and address insurance issues.

On the topic of insurance, the team added additional insurance broker relationships in 2008 in support of the event, broadening and improving our coverage. And while it may seem that accounting and insurance don’t particularly feel like natural companions to have in the same department, it actually helps that we are able to bring the broad-view to insurance matters. Our team has a unique perspective gained by seeing the whole organization through the financial process from initial budgets, to contracts, invoice processing, all the way through to end-of-cycle reporting.

Submitted by,
Timothy Foster