Accounting for Non Accounting People


Nothing is costless or can exist without financial resources, not even in art organizations. A focus on the financial viability of an art organization is fundamental because it serves both internal functions (for art managers: to understand whether/how the organization sustains itself, make projections and ease decision making) and external functions (to show the solidity, feasibility of an idea; to assess its profitability or its financial resource needs and apply for funding). People who run or work with culture inevitably confront themselves with these issues but are rarely equipped with the basic accounting notions to treat them with ease. This guide will give some basic literacy to non-accounting people to be able to familiarize with numbers, their outlooks and meaning. Eventually, it will reveal how much numbers can tell, and why and how they should be kept under control (and not only by number specialists). This guide will be a short journey through the notion of costs (fixed and variable), revenues (how they can be generated in art organizations), and how costs and revenues relate in usable ways in budgeting, break-even analysis, and financial reporting.

Key Take-aways

Numbers tell a lot, even in non-profit mission-driven art organizations. “No money, no mission”

    Numbers should be kept under control, and not only by number specialists

    A close look at financial numbers is useful to:

  • Clarify the internal economy of an art organisation
  • Go beyond the façade/rhetoric of value creation
  • As a springboard for specific questions about whether the art organization is financially sustainable, what can be done to reduce its costs or increase its revenues, secure adequate funding and, ultimately guarantee it stays afloat and realizes its cultural mission


Maria Lusiani is Associate Professor of Business Administration and Accounting at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where she directs the second-cycle degree in Economics and Management of Arts and Cultural Activities.

Her research deals with management and accounting practices in complex organizations, ranging from the arts field to the healthcare field, through qualitative research methodologies, including case studies, ethnography, historical analysis, discourse analysis and semi-automated content analysis. Her research has been published in Accounting History, Management and Organizational History, Long Range Planning, Journal of Management and Governance, Journal of Arts Management, Law & Society.

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