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Is a merger right for you?

In the wake of the new tax law and other developments, many nonprofits are looking for ways to solidify their financial footing — including the possibility of merging with another organization. But a merger isn’t something to be entered into lightly. It’s a big step that requires careful planning and consideration.

Possible structures

The term “merger” is a bit of a catchall, and your organization may opt to pursue a different type of collaboration. In an actual merger, all the assets and rights of one organization transfer to the surviving organization. And the former nonprofit no longer exists as a legal entity. Notably, the surviving organization assumes all the merged-out organization’s liabilities. There are several other popular ways to combine forces:

Consolidations are like mergers, except that both organizations are dissolved, and an entirely new entity is created that assumes all assets and liabilities of both former organizations. The new entity will need to apply for tax-exempt status.

In an asset acquisition, one nonprofit acquires identified assets — and possibly liabilities — of another. When dealing with two nonprofits, you could simply structure the transaction as a gift from one to the other. This approach usually is permitted if the transferring organization’s creditors are either transferred, or paid in full, before it dissolves.

Alternatively, two nonprofits could enter into a parent-subsidiary arrangement. The “parent” doesn’t own the other organization. But it takes control, for example, by serving as the sole voting member of the subsidiary’s board or having the right to appoint the board members. Notably, though, the parent doesn’t assume the subsidiary’s liabilities. Each organization continues to function individually, with separate IRS filing obligations and boards of directors.

The parent-subsidiary arrangement — also known as an affiliation of nonprofits — can be implemented by amending the subsidiary’s articles of incorporation and bylaws to describe the parent’s control. If the arrangement doesn’t work out as hoped, it can be reversed simply by amending the documents again. The organizations usually also enter an affiliation agreement that addresses a variety of topics, such as the subsidiary’s activities.

State nonprofit corporation acts generally govern the processes and requirements for each of these transactions. Both state and federal laws must be considered when structuring the combination.

Due diligence

Each nonprofit should conduct a thorough investigation into the other organization’s history, finances and operations before entering into a collaborative agreement. Neither party can afford to take due diligence lightly — the board members for the nonsurviving organization have a fiduciary duty to obtain reasonable assurances that the surviving organization can properly steward the nonsurvivor’s assets postmerger.

The organizations should exchange a wide range of information, including corporate documents (for example, charters, bylaws and policies); financial statements and audit reports; and fundraising records and donor lists. They should also share third-party contracts, including grants and other funding; HR records; and meeting minutes.

Moreover, the two organizations should look at IRS determination letters and filings; documentation of exemptions from property, sales and other state or local taxes; real estate records; and current and pending litigation. Due diligence can be performed in phases so that more confidential or sensitive information isn’t exchanged until further along in the process, as the combination becomes more likely. Final approval must come from each organization’s board of directors and possibly its members.

Potential costs

Nonprofits often consider collaborations for financial reasons. But the process can come with significant costs, some of which aren’t always obvious. Potential expenses include:

  • Staff time, severance pay and professional fees (attorneys, accountants and consultants),
  • Audit and filing fees,
  • Rebranding and replacement of promotional materials,
  • Moving expenses and infrastructure upgrades,
  • Lease and loan buyouts, and
  • Lost funding.

Other possible staff-related costs could include a need to increase some salaries to achieve organizationwide pay parity. This could happen if one of the nonprofits paid its employees significantly more than the other did.

Don’t forget to report

Most nonprofits that end their operations by merging with another nonprofit must inform the IRS by filing a final Form 990, 990-EZ or 990-N. It must be filed within four months and 15 days of the organization’s termination. Certain states also require notification to the state attorney general or other appropriate office. Keep in mind that a merger can be complex.

FASB proposes moving back effective date for lease and other new accounting standards

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) recently voted unanimously to propose a delay to the effective date for the implementation of the new lease accounting standard, ASC 842, for non-public business entities. The proposed delay in the effective date is until January 2021, which provides an additional year to privately held companies to comply with the new lease rules.

Additionally, the vote proposed delays to other recent standards updates including credit losses, derivatives, and long-duration insurance contracts. For credit losses and long-duration insurance contracts, the proposed delay could potentially also apply to nonprofits and smaller reporting companies as the FASB seeks to re-define its reporting entity buckets in relation to implementation dates of its future standards.

Refresher on lease accounting

The existing lease accounting standard, Leases (Topic 840), requires companies to record lease obligations on their balance sheets if the arrangements are considered financing transactions, such as rent-to-own contracts for buildings or vehicles. Few arrangements get recorded, however, because U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) give companies leeway to arrange the agreements to look like simple rentals. If an obligation isn’t recorded on a balance sheet, it makes a business appear less leveraged than its reality.

After nearly a decade of debate, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842). The new standard calls for major changes to current accounting practices for leases. In a nutshell, companies will be required to recognize on their balance sheets the assets and liabilities associated with rentals, such as offices, factories, airplanes and heavy equipment. The effects of the new standard are expected to be pervasive, because businesses rent anything from forklifts to photocopiers to recycling bins.

ASU No. 2016-02 defines a lease as a contract (or part of a contract) that conveys the right to control the use of a rented asset for a specified period in exchange for consideration. The concept of control is a key change from the definition of a lease. It means that the customer has both the right to realize substantially all of the economic benefits of the asset and the right to direct the asset’s use.

Most existing arrangements that currently are reported as leases will continue to be reported as leases under the new standard. In addition, the new definition is expected to encompass many more types of arrangements that aren’t reported as leases under current practice.

Delayed implementation

The new standard took effect for public companies, employee benefit plans, and non-for-profit conduit bond obligors in January 2019, and was intended to take effect for private companies for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2019. However, the AICPA asked the FASB for a delay earlier this year in light of the overlap with the implementation of the new revenue recognition standard and the struggles public companies have incurred thus far in complying with the new lease accounting rules.

The additional year will allow for further educational opportunities for private companies and other organizations that anticipate a major disruption when implementation arrives.

If you have questions on how this delay will affect you and your company, please reach out to us.

New rules clarify accounting for grants and contributions

When the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) released new rules for revenue recognition in 2014, contributions were specifically excluded. Now the FASB is offering further guidance in its Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-08, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Clarifying the Scope and Accounting Guidance for Contributions Received and Contributions Made.

The new rules likely will result in more grants and similar contracts being accounted for as contributions than have been under current Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). So, if you haven’t learned the new rules yet, now is the time!

What prompted the new rules?

The new rules reflect the FASB’s stance that nonprofits have taken inconsistent approaches when characterizing some grants and contracts as exchange transactions (reciprocal) rather than contributions (nonreciprocal transactions). Organizations also have acted inconsistently when distinguishing between conditional and unconditional contributions, according to the standard-setting agency. For example, some nonprofits account for government grants as contributions while other organizations account for them as exchange transactions.

These issues came into the spotlight in the wake of the FASB’s new revenue recognition standard. Contributions generally are reported in the period the pledge or commitment to donate the funds is received. But exchange transactions will be subject to the revenue recognition rules, including robust disclosure requirements.

Is it a contribution?

When characterizing a grant or similar contract, a nonprofit must evaluate whether the “provider” (the grantor or other party to a contract) receives commensurate value in return for the assets transferred. If so, the transaction is an exchange transaction.

The ASU makes clear that “the provider” isn’t synonymous with the general public. Thus, indirect benefit to the public because of the asset transfer doesn’t constitute “commensurate value received.” Execution of the provider’s mission or the positive sentiment from acting as a donor also doesn’t equate to commensurate value received.

If the provider doesn’t receive commensurate value, the nonprofit must then determine if the asset transfer represents a payment from a third party for an existing transaction between the nonprofit and an identified customer (for example, Medicare or a Pell Grant). If so, the transaction isn’t a contribution and other accounting guidance would apply. If not, it’s a contribution.  If the contribution is considered unconditional, it is recognized into revenue immediately.

Is it conditional?

Whether a contribution is conditional affects when the revenue is recognized. This ASU explains that a conditional contribution comes with 1) a barrier the nonprofit must overcome to receive the contribution, and 2) either a right of return of assets transferred or a right of release of the promisor’s obligation to transfer assets if the condition is not met. An unconditional contribution is recognized when promised or received. However, a conditional contribution isn’t recognized until the barriers to entitlement are overcome.

To assess whether the nonprofit must overcome a barrier to receive the contribution, it should consider the following indicators:

  • The inclusion of a measurable performance-related barrier or other measurable barrier (for example, raising a certain amount of matching funds),
  • Limits on the nonprofit’s discretion over how to conduct an activity (for instance, a requirement to hire specific individuals to run a new program), and
  • A stipulation that relates to the purpose of the agreement (excluding administrative tasks and trivial stipulations, such as producing an annual report).

Depending on the circumstances, some indicators might prove more important than others. No single indicator will determine the outcome.

Effective dates

The new rules impact agreements for most nonprofits who are resource recipients for annual reporting periods starting after December 15, 2018. For organizations who are resource providers the new rules apply one year later. Early adoption is permitted. 

Using Ratio Analysis to Manage Not-for-Profit Organizations

Thousands of CPAs work in the not-for-profit sector, and thousands more volunteer as members of the governing boards of not-for-profit organizations. There is little in the academic background or experience of many accountants, however, to prepare them to analyze and evaluate not-for-profits. University courses in not-for-profit accounting emphasize the recording of transactions and the preparation of financial statements, rather than the evaluation of financial and operational effectiveness. Board members without substantial accounting expertise are even less equipped to interpret not-for-profit financial reports.

Because not-for-profit organizations exist for purposes other than earning a return for equity investors, measures commonly used to evaluate commercial enterprises are not well suited for evaluating them. Furthermore, although they are commonly represented as a single class of organization, great variety exists in the mission and finances of not-for-profit organizations. While many not-for-profits rely heavily on contributions, others derive most of their revenues from the sale of services or membership dues. Because of varying missions and funding sources, there are no sector-wide norms to guide managers and board members.

It is often difficult for not-for-profit managers and governing boards to plan for the organization’s financial future because of a reliance on contributions and the lack of predictability of demand for their services. The future can be daunting if a not-for-profit does not have a strong grasp on its financial position. A not-for-profit can, however, help maintain its financial sustainability by following prudent financial management standards and monitoring financial ratios. Financial management standards help a not-for-profit monitor its budget, cash flow, resource utilization, and revenue sources. This article’s focus is on the use of financial ratios in trend analysis and benchmarking to improve the effectiveness of management and boards charged with monitoring not-for-profit organizations, specifically those not-for- profits that file Form 990. Financial ratios can help determine if a not-for-profit has sufficient resources and determine if it is using those resources efficiently to support its mission. Ratios are useful because they express underlying financial relationships as a single value, allowing comparisons across time and among entities of varying size.

Not-for-Profit Ratios

Investors, creditors, and analysts routinely use ratios to evaluate commercial enterprises. Because many of these ratios focus on profitability measures, their usefulness in guiding not-for-profit managers is limited. Historically, discussion of financial ratios among not-for-profits has focused on spending ratios: program, fundraising, and management expenses as percentages of total expenses. Donors in particular employ these measures to evaluate the extent to which their contributions support mission-related activities. There is ongoing discussion in the not-for-profit literature suggesting that being overly focused on spending measures can have unintended consequences. Sector leaders have called for greater attention to measuring operational effectiveness; others contend that measures of financial position are necessary to assess liquidity and sustainability. Responding to this demand, FASB standards now require greater disclosure related to liquidity.

The authors contend that not-for-profit managers and boards should actively measure and evaluate not just spending ratios, but also measures of liquidity and operational effectiveness. The selection of a set of ratios to monitor is challenging because not-for-profit missions vary extensively, as do their sizes and the industries in which they operate. The most accurate statement that may be made about the choice of ratios to monitor is that no single set of ratios is suitable for all not-for- profits. The management team of each not-for-profit should consider its needs and select a set of ratios to measure that address its particular concerns. Regardless of the specific ratios selected, two characteristics make ratio analysis more useful:

  • Trend Analysis. Within an organization, the value of ratio analysis lies in directing management’s attention to areas of changing conditions. Therefore, it is important to measure and report financial ratios across time. Once agreed upon, the selected ratios should be consistently measured and presented to the governing board within each financial report so that trends can be identified. The authors’ recommendation is that financial reports provided to the governing board contain five years of ratios.
  • Benchmarking. No generally accepted ideal or target levels exist for ratios. The desirable level for a given ratio is a matter of judgment and will vary according to the circumstances facing each organization. Ratios are generally evaluated against a benchmark rather than a theoretically optimal value; these benchmarks are typically calculated as an average value from a comparison group. Therefore, in addition to agreeing upon a set of ratios to measure and monitor, each not- for-profit should also agree on a comparison group of five to ten peer organizations. Ideally, this group would consist of well-managed not-for-profits of similar size and mission.

Because many ratios focus on profitability measures, their usefulness in guiding not-for-profit managers is limited.

For purposes of illustration, the authors present a set of eight ratios that are likely to be useful to a variety of not-for-profit organizations. The ratios represent the three broad areas of liquidity, operations, and spending. It also computes average values for these ratios for over 200,000 not-for- profits, divided into five categories by entity size, using information available from the IRS website.  Exhibit 1 describes the ratios, what they measure, and how they are calculated.

Ratio; Formula; Averages by Size of Not-for-Profit Liquidity Ratios Days cash on hand: Measures the number of days of expenses that can be covered from existing cash and cash equivalents. Generally, higher values indicate a stronger liquidity position, although there is both a benefit and an opportunity cost to holding cash reserves.; (Cash + cash equivalents) ÷ [(Total expenses – depreciation expense)/365 days]; Total assets Average value; $100,000 to $500,000 123 days $500,000 to $1,000,000 146 $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 99 $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 76 >$50,000,000 57 Months of spending: A less extreme measure of liquidity than days cash on hand since it assumes receivables can be collected to sustain operations. Generally, higher values indicate a stronger liquidity position.; (Current assets – current liabilities + temporarily restricted net assets) ÷ [(Total expenses – depreciation expense)/12 months]; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 4.22 months $500,000 to $1,000,000 5.24 $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 3.84 $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 3.35 >$50,000,000 2.42 Operating Ratios Savings indicator: Measures the net revenues that are retained by the organization as a percentage of expenses. Generally, not-for-profit organizations must maintain some surplus to replace existing facilities and extinguish debt. This ratio should be evaluated in the context of the anticipated needs of the organization.; (Revenues – expenses) ÷ Total expenses; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 4.5% $500,000 to $1,000,000 6.0% $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 4.3% $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 4.5% > $50,000,000 9.6% Contributions and grants: Measures the extent to which revenues are received from donors and grantors. Since this ratio measures the organization's dependence on voluntary support, high values indicate less diverse revenue sources and greater susceptibility to economic downturns.; Contributions & grants revenue ÷ Total revenue; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 59% $500,000 to $1,000,000 56% $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 47% $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 34% >$50,000,000 15% Fundraising efficiency: Indicates the amount of contributions raised for each dollar of fundraising cost. Higher values indicate greater fundraising efficiency.; Total contributions (other than government grants) ÷ Fundraising expenses; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 $16.94 $500,000 to $1,000,000 $16.47 $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 $11.45 $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 $11.93 >$50,000,000 $12.86 Spending Ratios Program service expense: Measures expenses incurred on mission-related programs as a percentage of total expenses. Donors generally view higher values as desirable since this represents resources that are being directed to mission-related programs.; Program services expenses ÷ Total expenses; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 85.3% $500,000 to $1,000,000 86.1% $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 85.2% $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 86.2% >$50,000,000 86.8% Management expense: Measures management and general costs as a percentage of total expenses. Donors generally view higher values as undesirable since this represents resources that are not being directed to mission-related programs.; Management and general expenses ÷ Total expenses; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 12.3% $500,000 to $1,000,000 11.7% $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 12.6% $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 12.3% >$50,000,000 12.4% Fundraising expense: Measures fundraising costs as a percentage of total expenses. Donors generally view higher values as undesirable because these represent resources that are not being directed to mission-related programs.; Fundraising expenses ÷ Total expenses; Total assets Average value $100,000 to $500,000 2.5% $500,000 to $1,000,000 2.2% $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 2.2% $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 1.6% >$50,000,000 0.8%

Because commercial businesses are reluctant to share detailed financial information with competitors, developing suitable benchmarks can be very challenging. In contrast, not-for-profits are aided in this process by the I RS’s requirement that tax-exempt organizations file a Form 990 and it be made publicly available. Many notfor-profits post their Form 990s to their websites or make them available through organizations such as Guidestar. In addition, the I RS website provides annual extracts of Form 990 data; users may download financial information for all tax-exempt organization filings in a given year. Form 990 contains much more detailed financial information than is typically available in corporate financial statements and includes a wealth of nonfinancial information, including information about organizational governance and employee compensation. A list of potential ratios and the lines on the Form 990 where the information can be found appears in the article, “Why So Many Measures of Nonprofit Financial Performance? Analyzing and Improving the Use of Financial Measures in Nonprofit Research” (Christopher Prentice, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, August 2016, http://bit.ly/2GlwUHX (http://bit.ly/2GlwUHX)).

Liquidity ratios.

The “days cash on hand” ratio measures the number of days of expenses that could be paid from existing cash and cash equivalents. Depreciation is removed from total expenses (denominator) since it does not require a cash outlay. Higher values indicate a stronger liquidity position. The “months of spending” ratio represents a longer planning horizon since it assumes receivables can be collected to sustain operations. Because the ratio removes current liabilities and donor-restricted resources from the numerator, it closely parallels the liquidity management disclosures that are now required of not for-profit organizations.

Both ratios indicate whether the not-for-profit has a sufficient “cushion” of cash and near-cash resources (often described as liquid resources—assets that can be quickly converted into cash) to meet organizational expenses as they come due. Many organizations have a policy of maintaining cash reserves equal to two or three months of expenses; higher values indicate a stronger liquidity position, suggesting that the not for-profit is better prepared to address periodic declines in revenues or unexpected expenses. Several factors influence the desired level of financial liquidity. Larger organizations and those with more predictable expenses and more diverse revenue sources may maintain lower levels. In addition, organizations relying on donated goods, such as food banks, can operate with lower levels of liquidity since those goods (rather than cash) are the source of the bulk of their average monthly expenses. As is the case with many financial ratios, maximizing either of these ratios comes at a cost. While reserves in the form or cash or short-term investments may make the organization financially secure, these resources could also be used in programs that further the organization’s mission.

Operating ratios.

The “savings indicator” ratio expresses the annual surplus (or deficit) of revenues over expenses and should be evaluated in combination with the liquid funds indicators. Improving liquidity ratios requires an organization to increase its annual savings; similarly, a governing board that is comfortable with its liquidity may spend a greater proportion of its resources, driving the savings rate to zero, or even a negative value, for a short period. A common misunderstanding about not-for- profits is that operating surpluses (i.e., savings) are undesirable. In most not-for-profits, accounting surpluses are necessary if equipment and facilities are to be enhanced, debt retired, or liquidity maintained.

The “contributions & grants” ratio indicates the organization’s reliance on external support. Very high values indicate the absence of a diverse revenue stream and a funding model that depends upon donations and grants. This ratio is particularly tied to the not-for-profit’s industry; religious and public broadcasting charities rely heavily on donations, while many larger organizations have multiple sources of revenue, including program revenues, charges for services, and member dues. For example, hospitals receive most of their revenue from patient services, and professional associations rely on membership dues. These not-for-profits typically report low values for this ratio.

Many organizations have a policy of maintaining cash reserves equal to two or three months of expenses; higher values indicate a stronger liquidity position.

“Fundraising efficiency” is the average dollar amount of contributions raised for each dollar expended on fundraising. Values less than $1.00 indicate the cost of fundraising exceeds its benefits. Charity Watch advises a minimum level of $2.85 for most charities. As with most ratios, care must be exercised in its interpretation. Fundraising capacity may take several years to develop, with the result that fundraising appears more expensive as an organization is building capacity. For this reason, studies find that smaller organizations dedicate higher proportions of their budget to fundraising than larger entities (e.g., Patrick Rooney, Mark Hager, and Thomas Pollak, “Research about Fundraising and Administrative Costs,” Giving USA Update,2003, http://bit.ly/2G2qQCw (http://bit.ly/2G2qQCw)). It is also important to recognize that the ratio is an average and not a marginal return. This distinction becomes important if development activities are evaluated on the basis of this ratio. In such a situation, notfor-profits may forego productive fundraising efforts for the purpose of keeping the ratio artificially high, thereby leaving money on the table that could have been used to further the organization’s mission. Fundraising opportunities should not be rejected merely because the expected pay-back is less than the current average.

Spending ratios.

The next three ratios all measure a given category of expense as a percentage of total expenses. Conventional wisdom is that expenses incurred for program services are good, while expenses incurred for management and fundraising are undesirable. Because accounting standards require expenses to be classified with the categories of program, fundraising, and management and general, the three ratios must sum to 100% for any given organization.

Because these ratios are relatively easy for non-experts to interpret (e.g., how much of each dollar is spent on programs), they are widely reported by the media, not- for-profit watchdog organizations, and not-for-profits themselves. Ample evidence exists that these ratios are widely used by governing boards, granting agencies, and donors. While these ratios are industry standards, they are also often misused. Because of the prevailing perceptions, incentives exist to shift costs to the program category and thereby improve the desirable ratio while decreasing the other two. To address abuse, accounting rulemaking bodies provide standards for the allocation of joint costs.

The “program service expense” ratio is the proportion of expenses incurred for purposes of the organization’s mission. It does not measure program effectiveness, only the extent to which available resources are directed toward the organization’s mission. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance recommends a minimum threshold of 65% for this measure. Charity Watch uses a grading system ranging from A+ (> 90%) to F (<35%), with 60% or greater required for a satisfactory rating.

“Management expense” may be the most commonly misinterpreted ratio. Sometimes called “administrative expense,” it includes expenditures for training, planning, internal controls, and organizational governance. Training employees and volunteers, safeguarding assets, and assuring responsible governance are all desirable things, but the conventional view of this ratio is that higher values are undesirable. In addition, the costs associated with securing government grants and complying with grant requirements are classified as management and general expenses and can significantly affect this ratio, particularly among smaller not-for-profits. As organizations grow in size, they require more layers of management for institutional control. Yet while the amount spent on administration increases with notfor-profit size, management expense as a percentage of total expenses may remain constant or even decline, depending upon economies of scale.

“Fundraising expense” is the proportion of total expenses devoted to development activities, and together with management and general expense is commonly described as “overhead costs.” Substantial empirical evidence exists that investments in overhead vary with the size and nature of organizations (Rooney et al 2003), but that increased overhead spending contributes to organizational performance. For example, a study by the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (Getting What We Pay For: Low Overhead Limits Nonprofit Effectiveness, 2004, https://urbn.is/2X8svNX (https://urbn.is/2X8svNX)) found charities that spend too little on overhead are less effective. In response to these and similar findings, the chief executives of the Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar, and Charity Navigator jointly authored a letter to donors alerting them to the “overhead myth” and encouraging greater attention to not-for-profit performance, transparency, and governance.

Curtis Klotz proposed adoption of a new reporting model for not-for-profit expenses to overcome the inherent limitations of current reporting (“A Graphic Re- visioning of Nonprofit Overhead,” Nonprofit Quarterly, Aug. 16, 2016, http://bit.ly/2FeaZ3x (http://bit.ly/2FeaZ3x)). Until accounting standards or the format of Form 990 are changed, however, the existing expense categories and reporting will persist. Because of the visibility of these spending ratios and their importance to donors, management and governing boards should continue to monitor them. But it is important to recognize their inherent shortcomings and not base strategic decisions exclusively on the ratios.

Use of Ratios to Evaluate a Not-for-Profit

In this section, the authors calculate the eight ratios for an example not-for-profit organization for purposes of illustrating how ratios may be used in both trend and benchmarking analyses. The organization chosen was a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) from a moderatesized U.S. city. YMCAs are easily comparable because each community’s YMCA is separately incorporated—and thus prepares its own Form 990—and they have relatively uniform missions, organization, and activities. The information necessary to calculate the ratios presented here took less than two hours to collect using the free section of Guidestar’s website; this suggests that once a not-for-profit selects a set of peer organizations, the annual investment necessary to obtain relevant benchmarking data is not significant.

Exhibit 2 (https://www.nysscpa.org/news/publications/the-cpa-journal/article-detail?ArticleID=12842#T2) presents ratios for the selected YMCA over a five-year period. Longitudinal analysis permits the identification of trends and highlights aberrations. During the past four years, the selected YMCA has consistently maintained a cash balance of approximately 2½ months of spending and an overall liquid net asset balance of approximately 3½ months.

Ratio; Current Year; Year 4; Year 3; Year 2; Year 1 Liquidity Ratios Days cash on hand; 67 days; 70 days; 81 days; 69 days; 128 days Months of spending; 3.3 months; 3.3 months; 3.9 months; 3.5 months; 5.7 months Operating Ratios Savings indicator; 8.6%; 3.9%; −0.9%; 2.8%; 1.3% Contributions and grants; 18.6%; 12.0%; 8.6%; 10.4%; 10.9% Fundraising efficiency; $7.00; $4.30; $2.70; $3.30; $2.10 Spending Ratios Program service; 87.6%; 87.5%; 86.6%; 86.7%; 85.5% Management and general 9.5%; 9.6%; 10.2%; 10.1%; 9.0% Fundraising 2.9%; 2.9%; 3.2%; 3.2%; 5.3%

One benefit of trend analysis is that it identifies deviations in the ratios, such as the unusually high liquidity values in Year 1. A 46% decline in cash from Year 1 to Year 2 would almost certainly merit investigation. In this case, the organization had undertaken a capital campaign in Year 1, resulting in high cash balances, which were expended for long-term assets in Year 2. The presentation of five years of ratios provides a context for unusual amounts; presentation of only two years of ratios (Years 1 and 2) would likely leave the governing board uncertain about which year was abnormal.

Among the operating ratios, the savings indicator exhibits the greatest year-to-year fluctuation. Although negative savings (deficits) are not sustainable in the long run, not-for-profits may experience occasional deficits. In this case, the YMCA held expenses constant over a three-year period (Year 2 to Year 4), and the deficit reported  in Year 3 was attributable to a 20% decline in contributions that year. Because the savings indicator returned to positive in the subsequent year, the one-year deficit should not be of particular concern to the governing board.

Exhibit 2 (https://www.nysscpa.org/news/publications/the-cpa-journal/article-detail?ArticleID=12842#T2) also highlights the interrelationships among financial ratios. The decline in contribution revenue in Year 3 caused the deficit reported for the savings indicator as well as a decline in the contributions and grants and fundraising efficiency ratios. Conversely, contribution revenue increased nearly 70% in the current year, causing all three operating ratios to increase.

The purpose of a benchmarking analysis is to evaluate the current position of a notfor-profit with respect to similar organizations and to identify areas for improvement. The value of benchmarks as an evaluation tool is dependent upon the selection of an appropriate peer group. Not-for-profits vary widely in mission, activities, and funding sources, and benchmarks developed from disparate organizations are likely to be of marginal value. In many instances, not-for-profit managers will be able to identify organizations with similar missions. Trade associations and networking opportunities provided by industry conferences and meetings may also be useful in identifying peers.

Exhibit 3 (https://www.nysscpa.org/news/publications/the-cpa-journal/article-detail?ArticleID=12842#T3) presents the current year financial ratios of the selected YMCA and average values for a sample of 10 peer YMCAs. To ensure comparability, the peer YMCAs are from similarly sized cities within the same geographic region; geographic proximity contributes to comparability since real estate, utilities, and other costs vary across regions. Ratios were calculated for the peer institutions using information from their Form 990s. Exhibit 3 (https://www.nysscpa.org/news/publications/the-cpa-journal/article-detail?ArticleID=12842#T3) presents both average values and ranges of values for the peer group.

 Ratio; Example Not-for-Profit; Average for Peer Group; Range of Peer Group Liquidity Ratios Days cash on hand; 67 days; 51 days; 11 to 71 days Months of spending; 3.3 months; 3.1 months; 0 to 9 months Operating Ratios Savings indicator; 8.6%; 3.6%; −3.3 to 14.3% Contributions & grants; 18.6%; 15.9%; 3.7 to 40.8% Fundraising efficiency; $7.00; $12.00; $3.10 to $44.50 Spending Ratios Program service; 87.6%; 84.6%; 74.8% to 94.7% Management and general; 9.5%; 13.4%; 3.9% to 22.1% Fundraising; 2.9%; 2.0%; 0 to 5.4%

With regard to liquidity, the selected YMCA is very close to the peer group average for the months of spending ratio and has a cash position near the top of the peer group distribution. The operating ratios are also close to the peer averages. Although the selected YMCA has a higher-than-average contributions and grants ratio, it is not high in an absolute sense, with most revenues continuing to come from program fees and membership dues. The fundraising efficiency ratio is less than the peer group average, but well above the minimum recommended by charity watchdog groups. Finally, the spending ratios are close to peer averages. Overall, both the trend and benchmarking analyses suggest nothing is out of the ordinary in this year’s liquidity, operating, or spending ratios. Accordingly, the governing board could better use its members’ time discussing strategic matters affecting the future of the organization rather than past financial results.

Using Benchmarks and Ratios to Their Fullest

The requirement that all tax-exempt organizations complete and make available their Form 990s provides access to a wealth of financial information about peer organizations at minimal cost. In some cases, it may be desirable to develop multiple benchmarks. For example, colleges and universities commonly develop benchmarks for both peer and aspirant institutions. Doing so enables organizations to evaluate how well they are doing and what is required to move up to the next level.

Financial ratios can be useful tools for those in charge of monitoring a not-for-profit’s financial position and operations. Ratios are not a goal in themselves, however, and care should be taken in their interpretation. Conventional wisdom regarding desirable levels for some ratios may be unsupported by empirical data. For example, not-for-profits often feel pressured to lower overhead ratios, even though research shows that investment in overhead is often critical to overall not-for-profit mission success.

Each not-for-profit faces unique circumstances, and pursuit of a given strategy may improve one ratio while worsening another. It is also important for boards to understand that resource providers monitor the organization’s ratios. Management should anticipate and be prepared to address the concerns of donors and grantor agencies regarding the organization’s financial position.

CPA Journal, May 2019 Issue

By Kaitlin Cashwell, Paul Copley, PhD, CPA and Michael Dugan, DBA

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 Review of Non Profit Accounting Systems

CPA Practice Advisor, Mary Girsch-Bock, April 16, 2019

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are currently more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. While the vast majority of these organizations are registered as public charities, the number also includes private foundations, chambers of commerce, and civic leagues.

While their missions may vary greatly, one thing these organizations share is the need to manage funds properly. This can include everything from applying for and managing grant funding, to tracking both donors and donations adequately. Membership driven organizations need to be able to track members, invoice members when membership fees are due, and maintain an accurate member list. Those that run programs regularly need to be able to handle event registration and keep track of everyone who has registered.

If that isn’t enough, these same organizations also have to be able to do the things that for-profit organizations do such as process journal entries, pay vendors, record payments, send out invoices, pay employees, and reconcile bank statements.

Many smaller nonprofit organizations make the mistake of thinking that regular accounting software is adequate. And while it’s possible to make it work, the more a nonprofit grows, the greater the need for a system that is designed to track the information that needs to be tracked.

Of course, finding the nonprofit software that is best for your client’s organization can take some time. If the organization has a large number of donors, they’d likely want that capability in any product that they choose. Likewise, if their organizational funding source is primarily from grants, they should be looking for a program that includes the ability to manage multiple grants.

Another issue to look at is deployment options. While some nonprofit software applications can be accessed from anywhere, others are designed to be installed on a desktop or network system. . Of course, cost can also be an issue, particularly for smaller nonprofit organizations with a limited budget.

All of these issues will need to be considered when looking for a software product that will work best for your client’s needs. And the best place to start is by taking a look at the nonprofit reviews that are included in this issue:

Abila MIP Advance

 AccuFund for Nonprofits

 Aplos Fund Accounting

 Araize Fast Fund

Blackbaud Financial Edge NXT

 Cougar Mountain Denali FUND

Fund E-Z Nonprofit Accounting  

GMS Grants Management Systems

QuickBooks for Nonprofits

Serenic Navigator

Tangicloud for Nonprofits & Government

 Xero Nonprofit Accounting

The reviewed products vary widely in both cost and functionality, with some of the products best suited for smaller nonprofits that have less stringent needs, while others provide just about every feature and functionality possible.

To make it easier, we looked at specific features and functionality in each of the products listed above, including chart of accounts structure and customization, grant management capability, fundraising and donor management capability, and even whether a mobile app was available. A Features chart accompanies the reviews, allows you to quickly view which features and functionality are found in each product. We also advise readers if a free demo is available, since trying out the product can be extremely useful when in the market for a new software system. Finally, pricing considerations come into play for most nonprofit organizations, since many have a limited budget available, so we’ve made every effort to include product costs in the review.

The bottom line is that nonprofit software can help an organization work more efficiently while they continue their mission to make this world a better place. We hope that the reviews included in this issue help in some way towards finding your client’s organization the product that works best for them.

Financial Technologies & Management provides our software evaluation to help you select the best nonprofit accounting system for you.  Also, we sell and implement the industry leading solutions which include MIP Fund Accounting, MIP Advance, AccuFund,  and Araize.  I would suggest you review our article “why your Nonprofit should consider using Nonprofit Accounting Software?” to start your review.  Please contact us before you contact any software vendors for us to best serve your review of Nonprofit Accounting Systems and Software.

12 Characteristics of Financially Healthy Nonprofits

12 Characteristics of Financially Healthy Nonprofits

Every director and board member of a nonprofit would like to have a large endowment, reserve cash in the bank, and a surplus at the end of every year. Unfortunately, most of us know that this might be a dream instead of reality. Without these tangible signs of financial strength, how can you know if your organization is financially healthy?

Financial health is about more than just reserves and endowment balances. Having a large budget or complex accounting system doesn’t always result in good management and longterm success. Just as our personal health depends on our behavior, so the financial health of a nonprofit depends on management behavior – policies and practices.

Even though there may be occasional deficits, or periods of tight cash flow, the following character- istics are good signs that your organization will be financially healthy over the long-term.

  1. Board of directors and management hold themselves responsible for long-term stability in both programs and financial performance.
  2. Board members understand their roles and responsibilities in financial matters.
  3. A realistic and well-considered budget is prepared and approved by the board.
  4. Budgets are prepared in tandem with planning for programs and operating needs.
  5. Management and board are committed to managing with the goal of an operating surplus each year.
  6. Consistent, accurate, and timely financial reports are prepared and analyzed by qualified individuals.
  7. Management and board monitor financial results as compared to the budget and modify programs and activities in response to variances.
  8. Management realistically plans and monitors cash flow so as to be able to meet obligations.
  9. Financial policies are in place that establish, or have specific plans to establish, an operating reserve to finance cash shortfalls and program growth.
  10. Policies are established for major financial decisions and adequate and appropriate internal controls.
  11. Management is committed to compliance with all required legal and funder reporting.
  12. The board and management regularly review short-term and long-term plans and develop goals and strategies for the future.

It is important that you strive to achieve each of these characteristics to insure your organization’s financial health and long-term sustainability.

Please let us know if we can help you improve in any of these areas.

Is Diversification of Revenue Good for Nonprofit Financial Health?

By MARK A. HAGER AND CHIAKO HUNG

This article comes from the spring 2019 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly.

As in any field, nonprofit management has its little truisms: Boards make policy and staff members carry it out. Hire an independent facilitator for strategic planning. Always thank your volunteers. One of the most often-quoted truisms is that nonprofits should seek as much diversity in their revenue streams as possible. Turns out that some truisms are truer than others, and anybody handing out absolute rules is probably trying to sell you something. There’s no substitute for understanding the ins and outs of an issue and then smartly applying them to your own situation. What blossoms in one situation might crater in the next.

The basic principle sounds good: depending on one primary source of income can be risky, especially if that source begins to head south, so it makes sense to hedge your bets—right? Indeed, the decree that more types of revenue—or more revenue streams—is always good has been around for a long time. Each revenue type (and source) comes with its own levels of reliability, constraints, and costs, and all may not align appropriately with the organization or its stakeholders or other revenue sources. Many types of revenue streams may need a runway where they may cost more than they bring in for a period of time. Some need a different kind of organizational capacity than what exists. Some may draw you off course or create reputational issues. Some revenue streams might soften with the economy, while others do not.

Examples of this kind of complexity are everywhere. Picture a thrift shop that lives and dies purely on individual contributions, which we might call a concentrated portfolio. In contrast, the homeless shelter across the street may also rely substantially on individual contributions but also benefit from a foundation grant, county government sponsorship, and earnings from a social enterprise (a café staffed by shelter residents). We might say that the shelter has a diversified portfolio. And that’s always good, right?

Not always, no. Perhaps the government grant does not pay full costs of the service required to fulfill it, and therefore requires otherwise precious unrestricted money to supplement a specific contract. And perhaps the social enterprise demands more than its fair share of staff attention— producing more angst than cash. The fact is that every revenue source requires some transaction costs: money, time, and attention. Every revenue source has its own level of restriction, from complete to none at all, and this affects autonomy and adaptability. The thrift store can do what it wishes with the money it makes within the confines of the nondistribution constraint—unless, of course, it loses money or operates on a very thin margin. Its revenue is not likely to decline with the economy—in fact, the opposite is true. All of these details about the nature and behavior of various revenue streams matter to the health of the overall operation, complicating the question of whether or not diversification is needed.

The decision to pursue additional revenue streams is a vital question of strategy for any nonprofit. So, you might not be surprised to learn that dozens of university faculty members who study nonprofit organizations have been studying the value of revenue diversification for decades. But how useful has this been for practitioners? We reviewed all this research for a paper recently published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and you might not be surprised to learn that the findings are messy and conflicting.1 When we say that revenue diversification matters, what exactly are we saying it matters for? “Financial health” might mean revenues, or revenue growth, or volatility. It might mean assets, or asset growth. It might mean operating margin, or fundraising spending, or program spending, or even survival. Different researchers study different outcomes among different types of nonprofits in different places with different research methods, and *boom* they get different results and draw different conclusions. Sometimes revenue diversification is helpful to financial health, sometimes it makes no difference, and sometimes it is harmful. Given these conflicting results, it falls to you to figure out your situation for yourself.

Luckily, this rich thread of research has spawned a number of arguments about why revenue diversification might be helpful or harmful. That’s what we want to present for you here, so that you have what you need to make your own strategic decisions in your nonprofit organization. An important starting point is to dispel the notion that revenue diversification is uniformly (always, every time) a good thing. Sometimes it’s not. Turns out the pros and cons are about even on the revenue diversification question. Let’s dig in.

Pro: Flexibility

If you know anything about the revenue diversification arguments, you might call this the standard textbook declaration on the pro side. Maybe the future is going to be stable and predictable, and your one revenue stream will provide the resources you need to pursue your mission. But the
future is unknown! Two kinds of uncertainty threaten to upset the applecart at any time. One is large-scale environmental change: a hurricane, or a recession, or civil unrest could radically shift what you need or what you have coming in. The other is more personal: your revenue line could just dry up. Shifts in tax policy make people think twice about their charitable gifts, foundations change their giving priorities, governments move their contracts to your competitors, and social enterprises fail. We know these things happen, and it’s not hard to imagine them happening to us.

The argument, then, is that more (and ideally unrelated) revenue streams give us the flexibility to weather shifts of all kinds. If you get all your money from government contracts and that contract is terminated, you may be sunk. If you get half your money from government contracts and half from private grants, loss of the contracts is serious but not necessarily fatal. Revenue diversification can give you options when the ground shifts beneath you. We say it allows you to “hedge against uncertainty.”

Con: Risk and Vulnerability

Hager saves a little money each month: It grows in his savings account—not much, but it grows. Hung saves a little money each month: He invests it in mutual funds—sometimes the market produces big returns, and sometimes it cuts into his principal. Maybe Hung will end up with more savings than Hager after a few years, but Hager sleeps better at night.

Modern portfolio theory helps us think about how to balance our tolerance for risk with our desire for greater returns. The investment choices with the greatest potential for gains are the same ones with the greatest potential for loss. These same ideas apply pretty well when making decisions about whether to pursue new revenue streams or not. Some revenue streams are more volatile or harder to maintain than others. Every time we pursue a new revenue option, we increase the complexity of our portfolio. We introduce risks that might cost us money in the long run—or at least a few nights of sleep.

Single-revenue streams, especially when the future is going to look much like the past, are safe and stable, just like savings accounts. However, the future is looking less and less like the past. Most of us now understand that we have to be prepared to adapt. Many read reliance on one revenue source as vulnerability, and, therefore, risk, and that makes good sense. But adding revenue streams adds complexity and new risks—ones that we often cannot fully calculate or appreciate as we enter into them.

Thus, diversifying requires at the very least a sober look at all the pros and cons of that particular income stream, including assessments of start-up costs, capital needs, and risks and consequences of worst possible scenarios. You may also need a special dashboard—or additions to your dashboard—so that the board can measure the costs-versus-benefits proposition. Without this forethought, you might end up in a worse financial position than if you chose not to diversify. The competence of your management team plays a big role here, and only you can gauge the likelihood that you will end up ahead.

Pro: Autonomy

The great advantage here is the freedom to call your own shots. Having money above what is needed for subsistence provides a lot of freedom, and needing money is a source of “constraint.” You have certainly seen examples of this: Private foundations do what they want, while their grantees have to toe the line.

Read any of the scholarship on revenue diversification, and there’s a fair chance you will see references to “resource dependence,” which means that money (or the ways to procure it) influences how organizations behave. Nonprofits that get all their money from government contracts—say, to provide mental health services for some part of their state—do not have much autonomy. The American Civil Liberties Union, with its recent huge influx of donor dollars, has a great deal of autonomy. The difference, again, is in the type of restrictions written into the type of revenue.

Revenue diversification has the potential to provide autonomy and all the advantages that come with that, since the nonprofit is not beholden to a single master. Whether many masters is better than one master is an open question, but diversification can provide freedom when one or another revenue stream places constraints on operations. The ability to call your own shots is essential; otherwise, nonprofits just vend services for the people holding the purse strings, and might stop representing their missions, boards, and broader stakeholder communities.

Con: Crowd-out of Private Donations

Crowd-out is one of those unanticipated problems that might come with—or might complicate—diversification of income streams. Put simply, crowd-out means that donors or purchasers might adjust their decisions due to their views on your other resource acquisition efforts. An example is the art museum attendee who declines to respond to a fundraising appeal because he believes his support obligation was met when he purchased the coffee-table book as he passed through the gift shop. Consequence: the museum cleared $15 profit on the book purchase, but lost out on a $150 donation.

Most of the research on crowd-out focuses on the statistical relationship between government contracts and private donations. A mental health agency might strategize that a public fundraising campaign would provide it more latitude and autonomy, and even the ability to innovate.
However, people may not be willing to contribute because they perceive the agency to be amply funded (by the government contracts) and therefore not in need of their contribution. Right or wrong, you can’t blame the donor for making that leap.

Blind revenue diversification carries these kinds of unanticipated problems. Because the revenue streams are part of a portfolio, they can interact with and influence each other. In isolation, a given revenue stream has a certain potential for revenue gains. Taken together, those potentials may be lowered. If they are lowered enough, they may well not be worth pursuing or will need to be pursued in a more limited, experimental way.

Pro: Community Embeddedness

Community embeddedness refers to your street credibility. Do potential clients or patrons know about you? Do they see you as legitimate? Do potential collaborators think about you when opportunities arise? Embeddedness is one part visibility, one part credibility, and one part networking. Some people call it social capital—the more that key stakeholders see you as a player, the more embedded you are in the community. Not every nonprofit needs this kind of embeddedness in order to serve its mission, but many crave it nonetheless.

One important way that organizations interface with community is through their efforts to acquire resources. An organization with a prominent fundraising campaign might be well known among the part of the public that cares about its mission but invisible to foundations, other nonprofits, government, local businesses, or the more general public. While diversifying revenue streams can have unanticipated downsides, a potential “extra” upside is exposure to new dimensions of the community. An organization well known to local grant makers might gain unique connections and increased reputation through the development of a social enterprise. Community connectedness might increase your penetration of mission, but community embeddedness might pay other benefits as well. For one, nonprofits with greater community embeddedness tend to live longer than more isolated nonprofits. Social capital pays, and revenue diversification can be a pathway to such embeddedness.

Con: Increased Administrative Costs

We mention risk and the potentials for crowd-out above, but the costs associated with (and capital required for) competently pursuing new revenue streams is too often overlooked by decision makers. If your organization has put time and effort into really good fundraising, that doesn’t instantly translate into expertise in grantwriting, or investments, or sales. Expertise is one thing, but sunk and ongoing administrative costs in management systems are another. Contracting often carries the highest such costs, with administrative time required for application, monitoring, and reporting. A good fundraising program requires pricey software and a sustained effort. Earned-income ventures require products and physical spaces and bear the risk of market failure.

A nonprofit with a concentrated revenue portfolio can streamline its spending and maximize the resources it passes to programs. In contrast, diversification requires specializations and different administrative apparatuses across the various approaches. If administrative costs stray onto the sensibilities of donors, those donors might even reduce their commitments to the organization. The increase in administrative outlays and the signals this may send to stakeholders are complexities that board members and other top managers do not always fully appreciate. Don’t get us wrong: we think nonprofits should spend more on vital administration, including information technology, human resource management, and resource development. But the problem is that your patrons may not agree with that. As always, nonprofits have to balance their progress with the demands of those who hold the purse strings.

Can decades of academic research tell you whether you should diversify your revenue streams or not? Sadly, no: the results are mixed and difficult to sort out. However, what it can do is outline the issues you and your board should consider when the question arises. Strategy, expertise, history, commitment, cause, and revenue mix differ from case to case, with a million different permutations. It depends. Study your own case, think through the ramifications, talk to everyone involved, and make your best calls without paying undue attention to an overly simplified prescription. Hopefully, flexibility, autonomy, and community embeddedness are around the corner.
Note

1. ChiaKo Hung and Mark A. Hager, “The Impact of Revenue Diversification on Nonprofit Financial Health: A Meta-analysis,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 48, no. 1 (February 2019).

“Is Diversification of Revenue Good for Nonprofit Financial Health?” draws on the NVSQ article, with permission

 

 

MIP Fund Accounting 2020.1 Product Release

The MIP product release is ready for download!!  Please feel free to contact Abila support or us to help with upgrade and software installation.  You will need to update to Version 2020 to be able to produce your year end tax forms including 1099’s and W-2’s for payroll module users.

Please be advised that future releases of MIP will no longer be supported on Windows Server 2008 or 2008R2 and SQL 2008R2.  Let us know if we can help to upgrade you to a more current copy of SQL like 2012, 2014, or 2016. 

Microsoft Support Changes
Please note the workstation installation will take up to 20 minutes or longer due to Microsoft .Net 4.8 framework installation being required so it is normal for it to remain on this screen for some time. If your machine already has .Net 4.8 installed or your IT professional installs .Net 4.8 prior to the MIP workstation installation, please disregard this message.

Windows Versions of MIP released after January 14, 2020 will no longer be supported on Windows 7 SP1.

MIP CLIENT PROMOTION

Get 20% off all  Tax Forms from MIP Checks and Forms that are 100% guaranteed to be compatible with MIP software. They can order online at abilachecks.com or by calling 1-844-857-2898. Be sure to give them discount code 19XABL59. Or, they can receive 20% off of their entire order when they add checks, envelopes, deposit tickets and more by using discount code 19XABL59.

READY TO CHECK OUT THE NEW MIP CLOUD?

Even if you haven’t joined the group of cloud adopters, you’ve probably considered it, researched it, or discussed it with your peers. If your organization is ready for a deep dive, now is a good time to check out the newly improved MIP Cloud – request a presentation by contacting us

MIP Subscription Pricing and Contract Changes effective October 1, 2019

MIP Cloud – Multi-Tenant or Single Tenant
1-user bundle $200 per month
3-user bundle $475 per month
Add-ons (modules, users, etc.) as-is/current MIP Cloud subscription pricing
Premium technology fee $150/org/mo. for Single Tenant

For on premise clients, you can receive 3 months free with 15 month contract to convert or migrate to the MIP Cloud though December, 2019.

SUPPORT AND TRAINING TRENDING TOPICS:

FTM SOFTWARE ADVISORY SERVICES:

  • FTM is your local business partner to help you with all your MIP software needs so please check out our MIP services page and contact us for help.

Budgeting must be more flexible in uncertain times

By Jim Simpson, CPA and Director, Financial Technologies & Management

A strong budget is an essential element for any nonprofit organization to achieve financial leadership. Superior budgets, though, have written plans about the core activities to include strategic, organizational, and program goals and how they will be financed.  A superior budget must be monitored and managed in light of the political and economic realities and the increased uncertainties we are all facing.

Most financial leaders focus too much time on budget variance analysis and not enough time on anticipating or planning for the future. By anticipating or planning, organizations can focus on what’s upcoming regardless of its budget cycle or fiscal year-end. A budget can be complemented with rolling forecasts to better anticipate upcoming financial results.

Budgets also need to include cash flow projections, which maybe outside of the finance departments capacity or capabilities. Financial leaders must have a direct role in developing useful cash flow projections and assumptions with frequent, detailed analysis.

Financial sustainability can only be achieved with a well-prepared and continuously monitored budget. Conversely, a poorly developed budget can diminish mission focused activities opportunities and threaten long-term success.

It is important that each of the following budget process practices is used to develop the budget.

  • Draft revenue and expense budget to attain strategic, organizational and program goals. It is important to break expenses into variable expenses, fixed expenses, incremental expenses and indirect expenses for administration and facilities.  It is important that any new initiatives are approved and deadlines established before they are undertaken.
  • Modify budget with budget team input to ensure everyone understands and approves the revised draft budget.
  • Implement budget to communicate budget, assign management responsibilities, implement in accounting system, monitor and respond to changes to the budget. It is important that you document budget decisions including writing down all budget assumptions.
  • A budget should be implemented with monthly distributions to anticipate the changes to monthly revenues and expenses based on timing and seasonal program activities.
  • A budget may need to be broken out for donors without restrictions and donors with restrictions to insure that there are sufficient resources to actually fulfill the donor restrictions.
  • A budget should add a contingency or cushion to take into consideration the unknown.   The less predictable your budget it, the more contingency you may need to have.    A contingency of 5% of your non-personnel costs is typical and may need to increase if your funding or costs are not predictable.

Any unfavorable budget deficits need to be evaluated to determine if it is just a timing difference or an actual deficit. Shortfalls created by deficits need to be solved by budget adjustments or strategic choices to absorb a shortfall. An organization can determine timing or actual deficits by reviewing the budget to see if it had planned for or not.

Your budget deficits should consider what funding may become available, whether to utilize reserves, utilize unrestricted funding, or reduce expenses.  If funding is disappearing, can we replace the funding, should we reduce or eliminate an ineffective program, or can we reinvest into more effective or sustainable programs.  You should create various budget scenarios so you have various options about how to meet budget deficits.

In contrast to traditional budgets, a flexible budget may include a range of scenarios or a shorter time frame, or both. Three scenarios at a minimum should be prepared: best, worst and expected cases.

A bare bones worst-case budget will show you exactly which expenses are crucial to your organization.  Prepare your flexible budget in shorter or longer time increments from the annual budget cycle.

It is important the you strike the right balance in your development of flexible budgets.

  1. Worst-case budget – It will include realistic income and your core expenses.  The realistic income is committed funds and conservative fundraising estimates.  The core expenses would include essential expenses with no expansion of services.
  2. Expected-case budget – It will include optimistic income and incremental expenses.  The optimistic income will include uncertain funding estimates.   The incremental expenses would be the additional expenses to be incurred if new funds are secured.
  3. Best-case budget – It will include the fundraising goal revenue and projected expenses.  The fundraising goal revenue includes the combination of the realistic and optimistic income.  The projected expenses includes the combination of he core and incremental expenses.

It is important that an accompanying cash flow projection be developed to accompany the accrual based budget.  A cash flow projection will help to foresee cash flow problems a plan for solutions even if an organization has a balanced or surplus budget.

Flexible budgets and Cash Flow Projections will provide you with additional tools to help ensure your organization remains financial stable despite an uncertain future.

Key Goals for Financial Stability

  • Diversify Revenue so you are no too dependent on any one funding source and look for ways to accelerate cash flows
  • Allocate indirect costs to programs to insure all program costs are covered
  • Develop Staff versatility and adaptability to work in different program areas
  • Develop and maintain an Endowment to support financial operations
  • Maintain one to three months reserves to allow for program growth and cover short-term deficits
  • Keep track of financial results and how you are doing to keep organization financially stable
  • Monitor cash flow projection at least monthly to determine how long the organization can survive without additional funding

Let us know how we can help your organization develop the financial tools it needs to grow and remain financially stable.

Beyond the Debits and Credits: A Management and Governance Checklist for Implementing FASB ASU 2016-14

Beyond the Debits and Credits: A Management and Governance Checklist for Implementing FASB ASU 2016-14

 The time has come to dive into the details of how to implement FASB Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14, Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities. For that purpose, you can’t beat a good checklist. While there are several checklists available online to assist you with the financial-statement-presentation aspects of ASU 2016-14 implementation, this checklist addresses the governance side of implementation. What needs to be considered from a process perspective; what needs to be communicated and to whom?

The checklist is divided into the five key areas:

  • Classifying net assets
  • Reporting investment returns
  • Reporting expenses by function and nature
  • Preparing the statement of cash flows
  • Preparing disclosures about liquidity and availability of financial assets

Each section contains a high-level overview of the requirements, followed by questions that management should consider when implementing the standard as well as steps that may be taken to ensure that your board understands the implications.

Net Asset Classification

ASU 2016-14 replaces the three classes of net assets – permanently restricted, temporarily restricted and unrestricted –with two classes – net assets with donor-imposed restrictions and net assets without donor restrictions. To ensure that there is no loss of information, the standard requires not-for-profits to provide information about the nature and amounts of donor restrictions on net assets, as well as the amounts and purposes of net assets that have been designated by the governing board.

Amounts by which endowment funds are underwater will now be reported within net assets with donor restrictions rather than in unrestricted net assets. In addition, organizations will be required to disclose their policy for spending from underwater endowments and the aggregate original gift amounts of underwater funds, along with the fair value of those funds.

The policy option to imply a time restriction that expires over the useful life of donated long- lived assets will no longer be available. Instead, absent specific donor stipulations, restrictions on capital assets will be released when the asset is placed in service.

 

Considerations Yes/No Actions Required
1. Should current classifications be reviewed to ensure accuracy?    
a) Are processes in place to ensure that donor restrictions have been released appropriately?    
b) Are there unidentified balances in temporarily restricted net assets that should be examined?    
2. Does the organization have board designated net assets?    
a) Are the purposes for which the net assets are designated still appropriate?    
b) Has the board’s approval of designated amounts been adequately documented?    
3. Does the organization have endowment funds that are underwater?    
a) Are systems and processes in place that enable identification of underwater funds?    
b) Will the transfer to net assets with donor restrictions adversely affect ratios or covenants?    
c) Is the organization’s policy for spending from underwater endowments still appropriate and adequately documented?    
4. Does the organization have a policy to imply a time restriction that expires over the useful life of donated long-lived assets?    
a) What is the potential effect of releasing from restriction net assets to which that policy has been applied?    
5. Does the organization’s chart of accounts need revisions to support the net asset changes?    
Considerations for Board Communication
1. Explain the new net asset categories.    
a) Review terminology changes.    
b) Illustrate how the changes will affect statement presentation.    
2. Describe any impact of underwater endowments on net asset balances.    
3. Describe any impact on net asset balances if policy to imply a time restriction on donated long-lived assets is currently being used.    
4. Reaffirm prior board decisions.    
a) Review existing board designations.    

 

b) Ensure policy for spending from underwater endowments is still appropriate.    
5. Discuss additional costs associated with changes.    
a) Additional audit fees    
b) Necessary system and/or process changes    

Reporting Investment Returns

Under ASU 2016-14, investment returns will be presented net of external and direct internal expenses in the statement of activities. The current requirement to disclose the amount of netted investment expenses has been eliminated. In addition, NFPs will no longer be required to display the investment return components (income earned and net realized and unrealized gains or losses) in the rollforward of endowment net assets.

 

Considerations Yes/No Actions Required
1. Identify the costs, if any, that are being netted today.    
a) Do costs currently being netted meet the definition in the standard?    
b) Will any additional costs need to be netted?    
2. Consider how to communicate any significant changes in net investment revenue reported in the financial statements.    
a) Who needs to communicated with?    
b) What is the best means of communicating (i.e., in person, by email, other)?    
3. Will a change in net investment return have any adverse consequences that should be addressed prior to implementation?    
a) Debt covenants    
b) Regulatory requirements    
c) Other    
4. Does the organization produce other reports that should be revised to provide consistent information?    
Considerations for Board Communication
1. Explain the new requirement for netting investment expenses.    
2. Identify any changes to the current amounts, if any, being netted.    
3. Describe any impact on net investment return to be reported in the financial statements and any adverse consequences of the change.    

Reporting Expenses by Function and Nature

ASU 2016-14 requires an analysis of total expenses by both their function and nature in a single location either on the face of the statement of activities, as a schedule in the notes to financial statements, or in a separate financial statement. To the extent that expenses are reported by other than their natural classification (such as salaries included in cost of goods sold or facility rental costs of special events reported as direct benefits to donors), they must be reported by their natural classification in the functional expense analysis. For example, salaries, wages, and fringe benefits that are included as part of the cost of goods sold on the statement of activities should be included with other salaries, wages, and fringe benefits in the expense analysis. External and direct internal investment expenses that have been netted against investment return may not be included in the functional expense analysis. Enhanced disclosures about how costs are allocated among functions are also required.

 

Considerations Yes/No Actions Required
1. Determine the best format for presenting the expense analysis:    
a) On the face of the statement of activities?    
b) In the notes to the financial statements?    
c) As a separate statement (i.e., a statement of functional expenses)?    
2. Are the current functional expense classifications still appropriate?    
a) Are there too many?    
b) Are there too few?    
c) Is any renaming necessary to accurately depict what is included in a specific function?    
3. Ensure functional classifications are being accurately captured in the financial statements.    
a) What processes are in place to ensure that expenses are properly classified?    
b) Is a review of the classification necessary to ensure accuracy?    
4. Are expenses by natural classification being properly captured?    
a) What processes are in place to ensure expenses are properly recorded?    
b) Are employee reimbursements in accordance with the organization’s policy?    
5. Are the current natural expense classifications still appropriate?    
a) Are there too many?    
b) Are there too few?    

 

6. Are current allocation methodologies appropriate?    
7. If comparative years are presented, should the expense analysis be presented for the current year only or for all years presented? (Note: NFPs that previously were required to present a statement of functional expenses do not have the option to omit prior-period information.)    
Considerations for Board Communication
1. Discuss how this analysis may differ from the similar analysis required on the IRS Form 990.    
2. Identify any additional costs anticipated in preparing the disclosure (i.e., costs to review existing functional expenses).    

Statement of Cash Flows

ASU 2016-14 allows an organization to present cash flows from operating activities using either the direct or indirect method. If the direct method is chosen, the indirect reconciliation is not required, but may still be provided if desired.

Considerations Yes/No Actions Required
1. Determine which presentation method is best for the organization.    
2. If contemplating a change:    
a) Consider recasting current statement into the new format.    
b) Identify any system changes needed to support the new format.    
c) Determine if any process changes will be necessary.    
d) Decide whether to include the indirect reconciliation in the financial statements.    
Considerations for Board Communication
1. Discuss the pros and cons of each format and get input on the board’s preference.    
2. Consider preparing statements in each format and highlight differences.    
3. Identify any additional costs associated with making a change.    

Disclosures about Liquidity and Availability of Financial Assets

The new standard requires not-for-profits to disclose both qualitative and quantitative information about liquidity and availability of resources as follows:

  • Qualitative information that communicates how the organization manages its liquid resources available to meet cash needs for general expenditures within one year of the balance sheet
  • Quantitative information that communicates the availability of the organization’s financial assets at the balance sheet date to meet cash needs for general expenditures within one year of the balance sheet The availability of a financial asset may be affected by its nature; external limits imposed by donors, laws, and contracts with others; and internal limits imposed by governing boards.

These disclosures can take many forms depending on the relative liquidity of an organization’s resources, donor-imposed restrictions on those resources, internal board designation of resources, and so on.

Considerations Yes/No Actions Required
1. What is the message the organization wants to convey?    
a) Does the organization have ample resources to fund activities over the next 12 months?    
b) Are there significant restrictions or internal designations limiting the use of resources?    
c) What additional sources of liquidity are available?    
2. Identify the best way to present the message:    
a) Text only?    
b) Tables and text?    
3. Identify current procedures around board designations.    
a) Are procedures formally documented?    
b) Does the board delegate authority for designation of net assets?    
i.   Is the delegation documented?    
ii. Are the levels of delegation still appropriate?    
4. Review current policies.    
a) Will any new policies be required?    
i.   Net asset designation policy?    
ii. Operating reserve policy?    
b) Do existing policies need updating or formalizing?    
5. Are system changes needed to easily capture information for disclosure?    
6. Does the organization’s chart of accounts need revisions to support the disclosure?    

 

7. Do current processes need to be modified?    
8. Are any new processes necessary?    
9. If comparative years are presented, should the liquidity disclosures be presented for the current year only or for all years presented?    
Considerations for Board Communication
1. Explain the disclosure requirements.    
2. Discuss the best presentation for achieving desired transparency.    
3. Recommend any policy changes or additions.    
4. Discuss any additional costs anticipated for preparing the disclosures.    

Source: “Beyond the Debits and Credits: A Management and Governance Checklist for Implementing FASB ASU 2016-14,” American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Not-for-Profit Section.