Online Course: Financial Structures and Strategy

Course Description

Intended for those with little to moderate familiarity with financial concepts, this four-week course helps students better understand institutional finance and accountability. Staff, board members, and volunteers will find this course applicable to their work within nonprofit organizations, agencies, and other structures.

“Financial Structures and Strategy” introduces the “big ideas” of organizational financial management: functional accounting, transparency, the annual reporting process, and the relationship between finance and mission. Not only will students learn the basic structures and functions of financial oversight, they will also understand how to activate finance as a strategic tool to benefit organizational planning and evaluation.

Over the four weeks, students participate in dynamic discussions, review relevant and timely readings, and ultimately learn how to prepare and analyze financial systems.

The course is divided into four weekly segments, each accompanied by an online lesson, forum, chat, and assignment:

  • Week 1: Course overview and introduction to financial systems
  • Week 2: Overview of the annual audit process and preparation of financial statements
  • Week 3: Introduction to the IRS Form 990, UBIT, and other tax considerations
  • Week 4: Strategies and recommendations for long-term institutional financial health

Note: The Introduction to Financial Management course presented by AASLH is not required as a prerequisite for this course, though may prove useful in preparation.


COURSE DATES: March 2 - March 29, 2020

COST: $150 AASLH Members / $250 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: November 1, 2019 - February 23, 2020; 20 participant limit


Course Logistics

FORMAT: Online, instructor-led, weekly-paced course 

LENGTH: 4 weeks 

PARTICIPATION STYLE: Weekly real-time online office hours; weekly assignments; final course assignment; Students should expect to spend 2-5 hours per week on the course.

MATERIALS: One required text, Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums, Rebekah Beaulieu, 2017 (Texts are NOT INCLUDED with your registration. You must order the book separately from the book seller of your choice.) Students should bring real-life financial information to the course to be used in course assignments to create a budget. Students should also have access to and basic knowledge of Microsoft Excel or a similar spreadsheet program as it will be used extensively to complete assignments. Note: all institutional financial information will be kept confidential and shared only with the instructor. 

Participant Outcomes

Participation in this course will help you:

  • Understand basic nonprofit functional accounting systems and the role of financial transparency
  • Structure and execute the annual financial reporting process
  • Analyze financial data according to mission relevance
  • Establish financial procedures to ensure financial sustainability.

Who Should Take This Course

Whether you have financial responsibilities at your organization, wish to build a skill set for a leadership position in the future, or simply want to better comprehend and contribute to financial decision-making, this course is for you.



Rebekah Beaulieu, Ph.D. is the Director of the Florence Griswold Museum, an art museum, National Landmark historic house, and 13-acres of gardens and grounds in Old Lyme, Connecticut. She serves on the faculty of AASLH’s History Leadership Institute, and is a member of the Association’s Finance Committee. Becky is also a board member of the New England Museum Association and Connecticut Humanities, and was recently appointed an AAM Accreditation Commissioner.

Becky is the author of Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). She holds an M.A in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and in Arts Administration from Columbia University; she earned her Ph.D. in American and New England Studies at Boston University.

Mistakes Were Made

middle age woman slapping hand on head to say duh made mistake

Note from blog editors: Sean Kelley and a panel presented a session at the 2016 AASLH Annual Meeting about the lies we tell at historic sites. It was one in a series of sessions about confronting uncomfortable topics. Below is an essay from Sean about another session that we as educators could learn from.

During the American Alliance of Museums conference in Baltimore there was a session called Mistakes Were Made. It was so popular that 150 delegates were turned away from the packed seminar room. INSITE asked the session’s Chair, Sean Kelley to tell us some of the take-home messages from the experience, and the article is reposted here with permission.

As museum professionals, we aren’t particularly good about admitting our mistakes. There is a reason for this, of course. We answer to our direct supervisors, to our boards of directors, to government institutions, to funders, and to the public we ultimately serve. It’s a landscape thick with potential criticism. But how many times have you sat in a professional conference, watching slide after slide of smiling children in beautiful exhibits and thought, “No way…tell me how it really went?”

I started chairing a session at the annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums called Mistakes Were Made: Resources Squandered, Deadlines Missed, Stakeholders Alienated simply to introduce a different tone. The game-show format awards a trophy to the audience member who admits the biggest mistake, and the lesson it taught.

Contemplating mistakes helps us gather our thoughts and reflect on where, exactly, we went wrong. Admitting mistakes steels us against a repeat of the same error—the most painful of mistakes. These discussions allow others to gain from our painful experiences, and they encourage our colleagues to share their own cautionary tales for our benefit.

And admitting mistakes conveys confidence. I’ve been surprised by how many colleagues have declined the invitation to open the session with me by admitting a big mistake. They say it would reflect badly on them or their institutions. But I think they’re mistaken: a carefully-considered reflection on how things went wrong lets our colleagues know that we don’t see this as acceptable, and that we’re mature and disciplined professionals.

Or does it? I’ve noticed a second trend in the session. A handful of colleagues will delight in the ineptitude of their institutions. “We wasted a ton of money! You have no idea!”

Am I normalizing a lack of accountability in our field? That would be a mistake indeed.

You can also read David Reeves’ excellent paper on things going wrong here.