Outsourced Accounting

An Executive Director’s Guide to Financial Leadership-Includes ED Finance Cheat Sheet

There is an important distinction between financial management and financial leadership. Financial management is the collecting of financial data, production of financial reports, and solution of near-term financial issues. Financial leadership, on the other hand, is guiding a nonprofit organization to sustainability. This is the job of an executive director. He or she is responsible for developing and maintaining a business model that produces exceptional mission impact and sustained financial health. To do that successfully, the executive director has to be ever mindful of essential nonprofit business concepts and realities. The following is a guide to this way of thinking for an executive —a summary of what we see as the eight key business principles that should guide financial leadership practice.

1.   Activate Your Annual Budget

Strong annual budgeting is an essential element of financial leadership. The best annual budgets align to an annual plan—a written narrative that all staff and board understand about the core activities the organization will undertake in the coming year and how they will be financed. If the budget includes as-yet-unidentified income, which is standard for many organizations, that amount should be clear to all board and staff along with the plan to raise the funds during the year.

Achieve a net financial result. A classic mistake executives make is allowing staff to spend all year on budget when income is not coming in as expected. In fact, it is critical to emphasize to your staff that an annual budget is a plan to reach a net financial result—to yield a specific surplus or to invest a specific amount of the organization’s reserves through a planned deficit.  Whichever the financial goal for the year, if the organization is not running on pace to achieve that net financial result, then even budgeted expenses should be questioned and reconsidered. The budget is never permission to spend when income is not coming in as planned.

Anticipate the future. Given that many organizations raise funds and encounter new risks and opportunities throughout the fiscal year, it is important not to stay overly focused on budget variance analysis to the exclusion of rolling analysis of your anticipated financial position.  Budget variance is the difference between budgeted and actual results for a given period. While it is useful to understand why predictions were off, it is just as important to be actively anticipating the future. We see too many executives and boards focused on “hitting the budget” rather than anticipating and intentionally shaping their financial futures beyond the current fiscal year. Fiscal years are arbitrary units of time; in reality, the decisions we make—and the consequences of deferred decisions— live on well beyond the fiscal year. For this reason, we recommend that organizations build the habit of rolling financial projection.

Commit to financial projection. At least quarterly, the management team should evaluate what they are learning about current and possible revenue streams, shifts in programming, and strategic opportunities, and there should be a means to capture that up-to-the moment thinking in a financial projection. Midway through the fiscal year, we recommend adding a projection column to the income statement, so that for the rest of the year it includes year-to-date actuals, year-to-date budget, and a column for management’s current projection of where the organization is likely to end the year. Even better, the projection can roll into the “fifth quarter”—that is, across the arbitrary finish line of the fiscal year and into the first quarter of next year.

2.   Income Diversification . . . or Not

Income diversification is often touted as a tenet of sustainability—the idea being that having all of your eggs in one basket is by definition riskier than having them in multiple baskets—or in this case, multiple revenue streams. In fact, nonprofit business models vary considerably by field or service type.

Determine the degree of diversification you  need. Income diversification is more possible and more necessary in some models than in others. For instance, community mental health services are likely to be heavily government funded, and once a nonprofit has established a successful track record of providing these services, that government funding may remain in place for years. Even though the organization is technically dependent on one set of government contracts, it may not be in a riskier position than another kind of nonprofit struggling to raise small amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and foundations, for instance. The reliability and competitiveness of your revenue streams dictate the degree of diversification that you need.

Determine risk. Income diversification carries some real risks. Evidence shows that more revenue streams don’t necessarily mean greater annual surpluses or organizational scale. To attract new revenue streams, an organization has to develop and sustain new capacities. As nonprofit finance expert Clara Miller has noted, “Maintaining multiple, highly diverse revenue streams can be problematic when each requires, in essence, a separate business. Each calls for specific skills, market connections, capital investment, and management capacity. Only then will each product attract reliable operating revenue, pay the full cost of operations, and deliver results.”  And a recent analysis of high-growth nonprofits by the consulting firm Bridgespan Group found that 90 percent had a single, dominant source of funding. Bridgespan concluded that organizations get to scale by specializing in a certain type of funding, and that diversification, and thus risk management, happens by “securing multiple payers of the same type to support their work.”

3.   Make Cash Flow Your Priority

Most financial reports are historical documents, useful to verify what has already happened and compare to budgets and plans.

Develop a cash flow projection. For looking forward, one of the most important tools is a cash flow projection. Executive directors need to know how the organization’s cash flows, and what to do if the cash doesn’t flow. Unless your organization has built up a substantial base of operating cash, any nonprofit can run into cash flow problems. What causes them? A variety of factors, including seasonal fundraising, annual grant payments, reimbursement-based contracts, and start-up costs for new programs.

Anticipate—and resolve—cash flow issues. Cash flow projections require knowledge and judgment that the accounting department may not have. Because of this, executive directors need to have a direct role in developing useful cash flow projections, agreeing on the assumptions to use, and reviewing the projections carefully. The earlier you anticipate cash flow issues, the easier it is to address them. As a first step, assess whether the cash flow shortfall is a problem with timing or is an indication of a deficit. The strategies used to solve the cash flow problem should match the cause of the shortfall.

Manage your shortfalls. Timing problems can be prevented by managing the timing of payments and receipts, improving internal systems, or arranging for a line of credit. Shortfalls caused by deficits need to be solved by budget adjustments or strategic choices to absorb a near-term shortfall. All of these options need the input and support of senior management. Managing cash flow is not a one-time activity. Insist that projecting and discussing cash flow every month or quarter become routine practice.

4.  Don’t Wish for Reserves—Plan Them

 “Building a reserve” is on the top of the financial wish list of just about every executive director. It’s an understandable goal—just read the preceding section about cash flow and you’ll understand why. Having a cushion of cash that can absorb an unexpected delay in receiving funds, a shortfall in revenue for a special event, or unbudgeted expenses can stabilize an organization. Nonprofits that have built up a good cash cushion have had options and opportunities during the recession that have allowed them to respond to reduced income and increased demand more strategically and carefully than those organizations with few extra dollars in the bank.

Achieve a surplus. Wishing you had reserves is not the same as planning for reserves. But where do reserves come from? For most nonprofits, reserves are built up over time by generating unrestricted surpluses and intentionally designating a portion of the excess cash as a reserve fund. On rare occasions a nonprofit will receive a grant to create an operating reserve fund. So step one in planning for reserves is to develop realistic income and expense budgets that are likely to result in a surplus. Step two is to make sure that achieving a surplus is a priority that is understood and supported by staff and board members.  For some organizations, there is an earlier step, too. They have to stop operating with deficits before they can even dream of having a reserve.

Determine your reserve goal. How much should you have? While there are some rules of thumb, generic target amounts don’t take some important variables into account, such as the stability of ongoing cash receipts. A commonly used reserve goal is three to six months’ expenses. At the low end, reserves should be enough to cover at least one payroll, including taxes.

Manage your cushion. Once a nonprofit has been able to build a reserve, using it must be intentional and strategic. Using reserves to fill a long-term income gap is dangerous. A cash cushion allows you to weather serious bumps in the road by buying time to implement new strategies, but reserves should be prudently used to solve temporary problems, not structural financial problems. To maintain reliable reserves, it’s also important to have a realistic plan to replenish them from future surpluses.

5.  Rethink Restricted Funding

 There is an ongoing debate among grantmakers about whether general operating funds are a better investment strategy than programmatically restricted grants. And frustration with funding restrictions is a common refrain among nonprofit executives. But at times this debate gets oversimplified to a notion that all restricted money is bad and inherently compromising of organizational sustainability, when this is not the case. As an executive, what you need to be concerned with is not whether a grant is restricted but what it is restricted to. A restricted grant for a program central to your desired impact and that covers a robust portion of that program’s cost is functionally the same thing as general operating support— it is funding a core piece of the work that you do. The two qualifiers are key, though: you are doing something that the organization would do anyway, and you are getting paid fairly to do it. What you need to avoid is chronic reliance on grants and contracts that pull the organization in unaligned directions or that refuse to pay fairly for the promised outcomes.

Develop effective grant proposals. Your development of sophisticated grant proposals is essential to incorporating restricted funding in your business model effectively. Take a very broad view of any program you are proposing for funding by including as direct costs such elements as hiring program staff, marketing and outreach to clients, staff professional development, and program evaluation. These are the kinds of organizational expenses that directly benefit programs but for which we too rarely charge our investors. If you believe that program evaluation is essential to monitoring effectiveness of outcomes, it’s your obligation to force the issue with funders who classify the cost as “overhead.” Incorporating sophisticated language in your proposal narratives that links staff development to program design to strong program outcomes sets the stage for a budget that includes these critical expenses. Restricted funding from foundations and corporations that genuinely understand and value your organization’s work can be a very sustainable revenue stream if you are very selective about which funders to pursue, and if you pursue them with well- conceived programs and accompanying budgets.

6.  Staff Your Finance Function

Put simply, too many executives have not staffed their finance function properly, and they pay the price with chronically underdeveloped financial systems, low-grade financial reporting, and the lack of a trusted partner with whom to do analysis and projection. In Financial Leadership: Guiding Your Organization to Long-Term Success, co-authors Jeanne Bell and Elizabeth Schaffer describe three functional aspects of the finance function: transactional, operational, and strategic. The transactional are the clerical tasks that support the accounting function, such as copying, filing, and making bank deposits; they require someone with excellent attention to detail and exposure to basic accounting principles. The operational are the range of accounting functions, such as paying bills and producing monthly financial statements; they require someone with strong nonprofit accounting knowledge, including managing grants and contracts. And the strategic are the systems development, financial analysis, planning, and communication about the organization’s financial position; they require what we think of as CFO-level knowledge and skills.

Determine your optimal staffing approach. Every organization needs all three functions, but organizational size and complexity will determine how much time each requires and the optimal staffing approach. In general, it is income that makes nonprofits more or less complex. A $10,000,000 organization that gets all of its money from individual donors requires a very basic accounting system, while a $2,000,000 organization with government contracts and restricted foundation grants requires a very robust accounting system. As an executive, you seriously jeopardize your organization’s funding and reputation if you maintain inadequate systems for tracking contract and grant dollars—it’s a true nonnegotiable. If you have these funds in your business model, you should assume that you will need to fund a very experienced, senior finance staff role.

Invest in contract consultants. So how does an organization with limited resources adequately attend to all three finance functions? Increasingly, we are seeing executives pair contract consultants with staff in the finance function. For instance, a small or midsize nonprofit might invest in an excellent full-time staff accountant who can handle the operational functions expertly and provide oversight to an administrative generalist—such as an office manager, who handles the transactional functions during the 50 percent of her workweek that is directed to the accounting function. Then the executive contracts with a CFO-level consultant who spends fifteen hours per month answering any questions the staff accountant may encounter, doing financial analysis for the management team and board finance committee, developing budgets and projections, and so forth. This way, the executive has a strategic financial partner without creating a fixed staffing cost that she can’t afford. Board members, including the treasurer, have a role that is distinct from the staff finance team. The executive needs an uncomplicated relationship to her finance team so that she can direct them in developing the analysis and reporting she needs as the organization’s financial leader.

7.  Help Your Board to Help You

Boards have a governing role in assessing and planning an organization’s finances. In too many cases, though, executive directors expect their boards to stay high-level and strategic without equipping them for the role. It is the executive director’s responsibility to provide the board with information that is appropriate to members’ roles and responsibilities.

Design your financial reports thoughtfully. The board is responsible for short- and long-term planning of the organization, and its members must ensure that systems are in place for effectively using resources and guarding against misuse. The board has legal responsibility for financial integrity but board members are not the accountants, so don’t inundate the board with pages of detailed accounting records and then wonder why the board can’t see the “big picture.” Boards need analysis and interpretation more than they need the numbers.  There is no one-size-fits-all financial report. Reports must be designed to communicate information specific to the organization’s size, complexity, and program structure in a format that matches the knowledge level and role of board members.

Understand how boards use financial

information. The format and content of reports for the board should be determined by their intended purpose. Boards actually use financial information for four distinct purposes: compliance with financial standards, evaluation of effectiveness, planning, and immediate action.

Compliance. Most nonprofits do pretty well with providing the board with financial reports that comply with the board’s legal fiduciary role to know how much the organization has received and expended. Historical financial reports, audits, and 990s are the common reports.

Evaluation. For the board to evaluate how well the organization has used financial resources, different information is needed. Comparisons are needed to measure progress toward goals, assess the financial aspect of programs, and consider financial strategies.

Planning. When the board is engaged in planning to project future needs and changes or to develop budget guidelines, they need a big-picture understanding of the organization’s history and of the external environment and financial drivers.

Taking Action. Sometimes the board needs to make a key financial decision to implement a strategic plan, react to a sudden change, or respond to an opportunity. In order to make a wise but timely decision, the board needs to understand the background and situation and scenarios based on one or two possible actions. And form should follow function: before developing financial reports for the board, ask what type of actions or decisions the board will need to make, and provide them with the right amount of information and analysis in a format that fits the purpose. Don’t ask your board to maintain a top-level focus on strategy while submitting financial reports better suited to the auditors.

8.   Manage the Right Risks

 To reduce and manage risks, most nonprofits develop policies and procedures for each area of the organization. The facilities manager maintains controls over keys, access, and insurance coverage. The finance director assures appropriate segregation of duties, internal controls, and checks and balances. Program managers compile information and data to run background checks, keep licenses up to date, and maintain required reporting. If we put them all together in a binder, these policies make up the organization’s risk management process.

Assess your organization’s risks holistically. If each area assesses and formulates its own risks, who is responsible for deciding which risks have the most magnitude and impact on the organization? Put another way, if a nonprofit decided that at least one of its policies had to be eliminated for some reason, how would you decide which one the organization could do without? For example, which of these possible events pose the greatest risk to the organization’s ability to achieve its mission, programmatic, and financial goals: theft of a laptop computer, loss of confidential client data on that computer, or damage to the organization’s reputation if client data were made public?

 

Consider enterprise risk management. Many nonprofits do a better job of managing the risk of a small theft than they do of identifying and reducing these other two, much greater, risks. Enterprise risk management (ERM) is a term that your auditors may have brought up recently. ERM is essentially the process of assessing all of the risks that the organization faces with a comprehensive, enterprise-wide view and making decisions about managing risk in the same way. An ERM process considers both risks that are evident today and those that are will emerge as operational and strategic plans are implemented. Some organizations need to complete a formal, extensive internal assessment with a staff team and outside consultants. Smaller organizations can complete their own organization-wide review of risks through brainstorming and discussions. The most important step is to start thinking about all the parts as a whole. In the case of the stolen laptop, for example, too much emphasis on limiting access to the office on weekends might have led a program staff member to store confidential data to take home to complete a needed report. Balanced together, these risks would probably have been managed differently than if looked at separately.

With the big-picture view of the organization always in mind, the executive director is the right person to advocate ERM by asking members of his or her team to think beyond their own area to the wider enterprise.

What’s old is new again. These principles are both longstanding practices and emerging trends for nonprofits. Some of these business principles are undoubtedly familiar to you. Others may run counter to what you may believe to be a “best practice.” Executive directors learn that leading a nonprofit requires a constant balancing of current needs, external demands, and long-term vision. Financial leadership is fundamental to the role and cannot be fully delegated. These principles will help executive directors adapt to the demands of the changing environment and maintain the balance needed for mission impact and sustained financial health.

The Executive Director’s Finance Cheat Sheet

A SUMMARY OF THE EIGHT MUST-DO’S FROM THIS ARTICLE . . .

  1. Develop your annual budget with a commitment to its net financial result—whether surplus or planned deficit—and then adjust spending during the year if income is not coming in on pace to yield that net Then, complement your annual budget with rolling financial projections that incorporate your most current information about probable future financial results.
  1. Diversify your income cautiously, ensuring you have the capacity to develop and sustain the programmatic and operational requirements of attracting each new resource type
  1. Develop cash flow projections along with the budget and rolling projections so that you can anticipate any cash flow problems well in advance, when you have more
  1. Plan goals for financial reserves based on your typical cash flow cycles and risks and incorporate reserves into all financial plans and Be sure to foster a financial culture for staff and board that promotes the importance of a regular operating profit or surplus.
  1. Pursue restricted funding from those foundations and corporations that understand and value your organization’s mission and particular strategies for achieving impact. When pursuing restricted funding, develop proposal narratives and accompanying budgets that link staff development to program design to superior outcomes, including all related costs as direct.
  1. Ensure that your finance function is always properly staffed; if necessary, use a mix of staff and expert contract consultants to achieve this.
  1. Discuss expectations for financial roles and responsibilities with board leadership to create accountability and information flow that matches the size and life stage of the Make sure to invest time in developing meaningful financial report formats for the board that reinforce organizational strategies and goals and support the board in fulfilling their responsibilities.
  1. Introduce the concept of enterprise risk management to your team and initiate an internal assessment of a full range of risks.

Source: “An Executive Director’s Guide to Financial Leadership”.  Nonprofit Quarterly

What’s your nonprofit tax IQ?

What should your organization know about Nonprofit Taxes?  Aren’t nonprofit organizations exempt from nonprofit tax issues except employment related taxes?   The answer is no, but many organization’s make this assumption.  With limited accounting and finance staff, there is a tendency to rely too much on other professionals for this knowledge.   It is also important to develop internal capacity to deal with nonprofit tax issues as the board and management are ultimately responsible.  If these nonprofit tax issues aren’t dealt with proactively, they can take significant effort and resources to resolve later, reducing your ability to serve others.   Keep in mind that just because an organization has received tax-exempt status from the federal government does not mean it is exempt from state and local taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, or other taxes.

The following is some basic nonprofit tax knowledge:

  • Form 990 – The Internal Revenue Service Form 990.
  • Independent Contractors – Make sure they are issued an IRS Form 1099-MISC at year end. More information on the Form 1099’s can be found on the IRS website:  IRS.GOV     You must issue Form 1099-MISC to each person who you have paid at least $600 for services and rents and Corporations are generally exempt from this requirement which is why you need to obtain a W9 from each vendor before you pay them.
  • Health Care Tax Credit – There has been a health care tax credit available for smaller nonprofits with 25 or fewer employees starting in 2010.
  • Property and Utility Taxes – If your organization owns a building, are you sure you are exempt from property and utility taxes?
  • Sales and Innkeeper Taxes – If your organization purchases items, are you sure you are exempt from sales and innkeeper taxes.
  • Federal Payroll Taxes – Nonprofits must comply with both federal and state payroll reporting requirements. Federal Tax Withholding, Social Security Taxes, and Medicare Taxes must be deposited through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).  The frequency with which deposits must be made depends on the size of the payroll, and may be semi-weekly, weekly, semi-monthly or monthly.  In addition, the organization must file a Form 941 on a quarterly basis.  Keep in mind that Board members should be especially aware of potential personal liability for payroll taxes.  Federal law requires someone is the “responsible party” and is personally liable for payroll taxes which could be the board member.
  • Unemployment Taxes – In Indiana, a nonprofit employer of 3 employees are less should be exempt from State Unemployment and most are exempt from Federal Unemployment
  • Other – For Charitable Gaming, do you follow these laws and have systems to be in compliance. For fundraising events, what steps are you taking to minimize facility fees?  For merchandise or publication sales, what are you doing to minimize any fees or taxes?  Did we file our annual report with the secretary of state office?  Are we providing written acknowledgement for gifts over $250 and provide the fair value of any goods or services in exchange for a $75 or larger donation?

More Information – At the end of the article will go into more detail about how to stay in compliance and avoid taxes and penalties.  What are you doing to make sure you are paying no penalties and taxes and staying in compliance.   If this nonprofit tax issues aren’t dealt with proactively, they can take significant effort to resolve with significant resources allocated to compliance.  Additionally, these taxes and penalties increase your cost and ability to serve others.

The Internal Revenue Service Form 990-Keep in mind the different filing thresholds which include Form 990-N Electronic Notice (e-Postcard) for organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less.  Form 990-EZ threshold is gross receipts of $200,000 or less and Total Assets at the end of the tax year less than $500,000.  Organizations with $200,000 or more in revenue or $500,000 of assets will file the full Form 990.  Form 8868 (extension) may be filed electronically or in paper form.  The IRS Annual Report noted the following common issues:  private benefit and inurement, no filers, political activities, employment tax issues, and organization’s not operating as required by exempt status.

The health care tax credit is a great contribution to smaller nonprofit to offset increasing health insurance costs.  It maybe difficult to qualify if the employer contributions to health insurance are not enough or the average salary of your employees exceeds $50,000.

For property, utility, innkeeper, and sales tax exemptions, you need to make sure that you meet the proper filing requirements.     A nonprofit organization must register for a sales tax exemption by filing Form NP-20A, available online at http://www.in.gov/dor/3506.htm  Form ST-105 is used by nonprofits for sales tax exemptions including the 10 digit state tax ID.   The Sales Tax Information Bulletin #10 lists out the nonprofit sales tax exemption.  Form ST-200 is used for each account to exempt sales taxes from utilities.  GA-110L can be filed to claim a sales tax refund relating to utilities for the current and prior 3 years.  For property exemptions, you need to file Form 136 on the even years along with Form 103 and Form 104

For IN state unemployment, you are no longer exempt once you employ four or more individuals for a day for 20 weeks during the calendar year. There is no minimum dollar amount associated with this qualification.  You may opt to become a reimbursable employer, as opposed to an employer paying premiums.

Our firm provides tax preparation and consulting services so please contact us if we can help your organization.

Common Form 990 errors for Nonprofit Organizations

Many Forms 990 are prepared incorrectly or incompletely.

Because the Form 990 is a public document — nearly all are posted on GuideStar.com and many organizations post them on their websites — it is important that the Form 990 be prepared completely, correctly and consistently.

An incorrect Form 990 could reflect negatively on the organization when reviewed by possible donors, the community or even the media. More importantly, an incorrect Form 990 might be viewed as an incomplete filing by the IRS, subjecting the organization to late filing and other penalties even though a Form 990 was filed.

Here are some of the most common errors we have encountered.

Missing the deadline. The 990 is due on the 15th day of the 5th month after the organization’s year-end.  That means May 15th for calendar year organizations and November 15th for organizations with a June 30th year-end.  There is a 6-month extensions available but this has to be filed by the deadline.  Final deadline after all extensions is November 15th for calendar year-end organizations and May 15th for June 30th organizations.  Late filing fees can be as high as $50,000.  Failure to file for 3 consecutive years results in loss of exempt status.  If the organization has unrelated business income, it must file an extension for the 990 and a separate extension for the 990-T.

Filing an incomplete return.  The IRS can consider an incomplete return as never filed in which case late filing penalties up to $50,000 can apply.  Missing schedules is one of the most common reasons for incomplete returns.  Listed below are some of the most common schedules.  Keep in mind that some schedules only apply to organizations filing a 990 and some schedules apply to both the 990 and the 990-EZ.

  • Schedule A – Required of all public charities
  • Schedule B – Required of organizations that received donations of $5,000 or more from a donor
  • Schedule C – Lobbying activities are reported in this schedule
  • Schedule D – Most common reasons for filing this schedule are fixed assets, endowment funds, escrow funds, and/or audited financial statements.  Endowment funds includes those administered by someone else such as a community foundation.  An example of escrow funds is security deposits from building tenants.
  • Schedule G – Required if the organization had over $15,000 in expenses for professional fundraisers (not employees) or if it had over $15,000 in gross income from either fundraising events or gaming activities.
  • Schedule I – Required if the organization gave more than $5,000 in grants and contributions to other organizations or individuals in the United States.  Schedule F is completed if the grants were given to organizations or individuals located outside of the United States.
  • Schedule M – Required if the organization received over $25,000 in donated non-cash contributions.  Common mistake is not realizing that donated stock is considered a non-cash contribution.
  • Schedule R – Required if the organization was related to any other organizations or if it owns 100% of a disregarded entity.

Voting members of the governing body.

Line 3 of Part I asks for the number of voting members of the governing body.  This should be the number as of the end of the organization’s year end.  For a calendar year organization, this is the number of voting board members at December 31.  This number should never be more than the number of board members listed in Part VII.  Part VII should include the name of any individual that served on the organization’s board at any time during the fiscal year.  There may be individuals listed in Part VII that were not board members as of the last day of the organization’s year but served earlier in the year.

New significant programs.

Line 2 of Part III asks if the organization took on any significant program services during the year which were not listed on the prior form.  Nonprofits need to check this box yes and provide a description for any new programs that began during the year.  When an organization applies for tax-exempt status, it must describe its program services in its application for exemption.  It is important the nonprofit notify the IRS of any new programs so that the IRS can ensure that these new programs coincide with the organization’s exempt purpose.  The IRS may be able to challenge any new programs as unrelated which could result in unrelated business income taxes.

Policies.

Part VI asks if the organization has various policies in place.  Nonprofits will not lose their exempt status simply because they do not have these policies in place; however, it is best practices to have them.  Two of the questions address provisions of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  Although most provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act apply to public companies, two provisions apply to nonprofit organizations – a whistle-blower policy and document retention and destruction policy.  In addition, if a nonprofit is required to file Schedule L, Transactions with Interested Persons which reports financial transactions or arrangements between the organization and disqualified persons, there should be a conflict of interest policy in place.

In-kind.

Donated services and facilities should not be recorded in Part VIII as revenue or in Part IX as expenses.  Items such as donated advertising or the use of materials, equipment or facilities are recorded in the organization’s financial statements prepared using generally accepted accounting principles but they are excluded from Form 990.

FORM 990, PAGE 1, PART I

Page 1 of Form 990 includes summary information relating to the organization and creates a first impression for the reader.

Organizations should consider a concise description that fits in the allotted space on the first page, so the reader can gain a clear idea of the organization’s most significant activity without searching through the voluminous disclosures in Schedule O.

Part I of Page 1 also includes summary information regarding the number of voting board members, employees and volunteers. Unpaid board members are considered volunteers for purposes of reporting the number of volunteers on Page 1.

Organizations with unpaid board members often fail to count them as volunteers on Form 990.

FORM 990, PART VI

Total members of the governing body and total independent members of the governing body are often counted incorrectly on Form 990.

The IRS instructions ask for the total number of voting members of the governing body, which may not be the same number listed in Part VII of Form 990.

In addition, the concept of independent members of the governing body is defined differently for purposes of Form 990 completion. Often, members of the governing body who are compensated for services performed outside their service as a board member, as well as members of the governing body who have interested person transactions reported on Schedule L, are counted as independent board members in error.

Business and family relationships often are not disclosed as required in question 2. Exempt organizations that have large numbers of board members — more than 20 — or are located in rural areas are likely to have a business or family relationship with fellow board members. This question is often answered “no” in error.

FORM 990 PARTS VIII & IX

While reporting revenue and expenses of an exempt organization should be routine, many times items of revenue or expense are not properly reported. Common reporting issues include:

  • Reporting fees paid for services rendered (contract services) incorrectly.
  • Contributions and revenue reported in the incorrect column.
  • Security sales, fundraising and/or gaming events not reported properly.
  • Incorrect or lacking allocations of a reasonable amount of expense to either management G&A or fundraising expense.

SCHEDULE A PUBLIC CHARITY STATUS

Schedule A reports the public charity status of an organization. Many times, organizations select the wrong public charity type in Part I. For organizations classified as publicly supported, one of the public support tests included in Part I or Part II must be completed.

These computations often are completed inaccurately with incorrect amounts reported throughout. A common error is the omission or incorrect computation of excluded support on Line 5 of Part II or Line 7 of Part III.

SCHEDULE L TRANSACTIONS WITH INTERESTED PERSONS

Schedule L reports a variety of transactions with interested persons. Many organizations define interested persons too narrowly and only inquire as to possible transactions with board members.

Interested persons are defined differently depending on the type of transaction reported on Schedule L, and inquiries regarding these transactions should include not only officers, directors and trustees but also key employees, highest-paid employees and, in some cases, certain donors.

Organizations should take care to inquire about interested-person transactions regarding all interested persons.

Once a transaction with an interested person is identified, the organization reports certain information in Schedule L. Business transactions tend to be the most often reported transaction on Schedule L. Part IV requests the name of the interested person (and not the ODTKE), the relationship and amount of the transaction. In many cases, the ODTKE of the organization is reported in error as the interested person.

SCHEDULE O MISCELLANEOUS DISCLOSURES

Schedule O is used to provide required disclosures based on the answers to certain questions contained in the core form of Form 990. The disclosures range from expanded program service descriptions and internal Form 990 review processes to availability of certain documents for public access and compensation-setting processes.

Often the disclosures are incomplete, not updated for current reporting information or so lengthy the purpose of the disclosure is lost to the reader.

Care should be taken to read each disclosure to ensure it answers the question or describes the issue completely, correctly and concisely.

Please contact us to review your current Form 990 for any errors or let us prepare your Form 990 and we will make sure you comply with the IRS requirements.  Also, we work with our clients on a daily basis so we typically know the organization very well which also contributes to a better prepared return with little effort from our busy clients.

 

 

Common Financial Statement Errors for Not-for-Profit Entities

The following series is a listing of some of the financial statement errors found in Not-for-Profit organizations.   I have broken it down by the different financial reports.

The Statement of Financial Position which is commonly referred to as a Balance Sheet may have the following financial statement errors:

  • Display of current/noncurrent assets without displaying current/noncurrent liabilities when a classified statement is used.
  • Improperly including items in cash and cash equivalents, such as cash held or other assets that are restricted or not available for current use.
  • Failure to report cash, contributions receivable, and other assets that are restricted for a long-term purpose separately from unrestricted cash and cash equivalents, contributions receivable or other assets.
  • Recording deferred revenue for amounts received under a “grant” instead of recording temporarily restricted revenue in circumstances where the “grant” is, in substance, a temporarily restricted contribution and not a true cost-reimbursement arrangement.
  • Improper reporting of beneficial interests in assets or net assets held by others, such as in the instance of an entity transferring assets to a community foundation and naming itself beneficiary.
  • Failure to distinguish between operating leases and capital leases and apply the proper accounting under the circumstances. A capital lease is recorded as both an asset and a liability on the statement of financial position. An operating lease is not reported on the statement of financial position and is expensed as incurred.
  • Missing one or more of the required totals: total assets, total liabilities, total net assets, permanently restricted net assets, temporarily restricted net assets, and unrestricted net assets.

The Statement of Activities which is commonly referred to as an income statement or statement of revenues and expenses may have the following financial statement errors:

  • Improperly releasing temporarily restricted net assets that are subject to both a time and purpose restriction when one, but not the other, restriction is met.
  • Reporting revenues from exchange transactions as increases in restricted net assets. Only those revenues related to contributions with donor-imposed restrictions can result in restricted net assets.
  • Reporting amounts receivable under a cost-reimbursement contract/grant as temporarily restricted (may be legally limited as to use, but it is an unrestricted activity for which unrestricted costs have been incurred).
  • Recording amounts as a receivable under cost-reimbursement contract/grant for which costs have not been incurred.
  • Failing to properly classify revenue transactions (or portions thereof) as contribution or exchange transactions.
    Improperly including expenses in temporarily or permanently restricted net assets. Expenses should decrease unrestricted net assets.
  • Erroneously reporting just one program service function when the NFP has more than one major class of program services. For example, an NFP may have programs for health or family services, research, disaster relief, and public education, among others.
  • Failure to recognize contributions of services that meet the recognition criteria or recognizing
    contributed services that do not meet the criteria as discussed in paragraphs 16-17 of FASB ASC 958- 605-25.
  • Not reporting contribution revenue for gifts-in-kind (free or below-market rent, services provided by another organization, donated supplies, donated media, and so on.)
  • Not reporting costs of soliciting contributions, including costs of soliciting contributed services that do not meet the recognition criteria, as fundraising costs.

The Statement of Cash Flows may have the following financial statement errors:

  • Failing to display donor restricted capital-type contributions (permanently restricted gifts, gifts restricted for acquisition of property) as a financing activity.
  • Failing to display information about noncash gifts for endowment or property, plant and equipment purposes.
  • Failing to disclose indebtedness incurred for the acquisition of assets as a noncash activity.
  • Netting amounts for purchases and sales of property, plant and equipment.
  • Improperly reporting unrestricted contributions that were subsequently designated by the governing board for long-term purposes as a financing activity rather than an operating activity.
  • Failure to report as investing activities the cash flows from purchases, sales, and insurance recoveries of unrecognized, noncapitalized collection items.

The Statement of Functional Expenses may have the following financial statement errors:

  • Failing to include certain expenses in the statement (for example, expenses netted against revenues or non-operating expenses).
  • Failing to include the statement when one is required (voluntary health and welfare entities).
  • Management and general expenses are inappropriately or completely reallocated to other functional categories. For example, costs associated with soliciting funds other than contributions, including applications for and administering certain grants and contracts, are allocated to program services or fundraising activities.
  • Within the listing of natural expenses in a Statement of Functional Expenses, including a function or program line item. For example, within the listing of natural expenses listing the line item “grant expenses” which might have already been allocated such items as payroll, occupancy and supplies.

The Notes to the Financial Statements may have the financial statement errors:

  • Failing to include the required disclosure for summarized financial information.
  • Failing to disclose an adequate description of the organization’s activities, including each major class of
  • Failing to disclose the capitalization policy for property, plant and equipment.
  • Failing to disclose discount rates used in present value measurements, such as in measuring unconditional promises to give or split-interest agreements.
  • Failing to disclose information about the nature of temporary or permanent restrictions on net assets.
  • Failing to disclose information about the programs or activities for which contributed services were used.
  • Failing to present reclassifications which are in effect corrections of errors as restatements. However when reclassifications are not corrections or errors, failing to describe the nature of reclassifications made to prior-year amounts to conform to current year presentation when such reclassifications are significant, even if such reclassifications had no effect on the prior year’s change in net assets.
  • Failing to disclose total fundraising costs. When a statement of functional expenses is presented and certain fundraising costs have been netted against revenue, such netted costs need to be included in total fundraising costs.
  • Failing to disclose total program expenses if the components of total program expenses are not evident from the details provided on the face of the statement of activities (for example, if cost of sales is not identified as either program or supporting services).
  • Failure to disclose material related party transactions as set forth in FASB ASC 850-10. Related parties include, but are not limited to, the following: officers, board members, founders, substantial contributors, and their immediate family members; members of any related party’s immediate family; parties providing concentrations in revenues and receivables; supporting organizations; financially interrelated entities; or other entities whose officers, governing board members, owners, or employees are members of the NFP’s governing board or senior management, if those individuals have significant influence to an extent that one or more of the transacting parties might be prevented from fully pursuing its own separate interests.

We hope you find this list helpful as your review and evaluate your current financial statements.   The notes to the financial statements are typically only included in the audited financial statements which means the organization is typically unaware of these disclosures.  We work with our clients on a daily basis to review and update the financial statements on a regular basis so let us know if you would like us to review and update your financial reports.

Essential Nonprofit Financial Governance – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

We will cover 15 commonly asked questions and mis-perceptions of financial governance. Please provide this to your board and especially new board members and leaders to help educate them on the roles and responsibilities on Nonprofit Leadership and Governance. Please register for our November forum to review this topic in more detail and invite your board treasurer, finance committee, and leaders.

  1. How many board members should we have?  At least 5-9 members which are unrelated to each other.
  2. What should be discussed during a board orientation? Mission, organization chart, bylaws, audit and form 990, responsibilities and expectations including fundraising, and frequency of board and committee meetings.
  3. Are there best practices for planning and conducting meetings?  Draft agenda in advance and be strategic and focus attention on priorities.  A consent agenda can be a good tool to move through routine procedures and information that can be provided prior to the meeting.
  4. Do I have to have an audit or finance committee?  Organization’s benefit from a finance committee and may benefit from an independent audit committee.  It is important to have the right financial experts to move you in right direction.
  5. Do I have to have accounting or finance experience to serve on a board?   A successful board is generally made up of diverse individuals who are focused on furthering the mission of the organization.  Board members may need training to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.   It might be best for these board members to not serve on the finance or audit committee however.
  6. Are Not-for-Profits supposed to have term limits?  Term limits seem to be a good idea yet make sure you have a staggered term process to support continuity and prevent large turnover of board members.  It might be import to change the responsibilities of long-term board members to keep them engaged and refresh their duties.
  7. Is it common for board members to have fundraising expectations?  Asking board members is very common and especially expected if donations is a major revenue source.  It is always a good idea to know the fundraising expectations and make sure you are comfortable with the commitment.
  8. What is a conflict of interest?  a conflict of interest arises with a board member has a transaction with the organization.  Transactions should be discussed and possible disclosed before they take place.  A robust conflict of interest policy covering the financial and non financial conflicts is a means to establish procedures that will offer protection against charges of impropriety involving officers or directors.
  9. Are not-for-profits required to have an annual audit?  It depends on many triggers that may cause or require an audit.  Receiving federal or state funds over certain thresholds can trigger audit requirements.  Some foundation grants may have audit requirements as well.    Some organization’s may choose to have an audit even when not required to demonstrate good financial stewardship and transparency.
  10. What alternatives exist to an annual audit?  A review typically costs 50-60% of an annual audit.   A compilation is another option but does not provide a basis for obtaining or providing assurance regarding the financial statements.
  11. What should board members know about the Form 990?  It is a public document and should be reviewed by the board before it is filed with the Internal Revenue Service.  Board members should fully understand and verify the information on the Form 990, and should feel comfortable asking questions until they are satisfied.
  12. Am I required to post my financial information on my website?  There is no federal requirement to provide your financial information on your website.  The IRS requires you to make your Form 990 publicly available.    In the interest of transparency, it is considered a good industry practice to post the IRS Form 990 and the annual financial statements.  The annual financial statements might be the audited financial statements and/or the annual report.
  13. Should we have an operating reserve?  An operating reserve is a valuable tool to manage changes to the finances.  By building and maintaining an operating reserve, an organization can better manage its cash flow on a day-to-day basis.
  14. How long do I keep my financial records?  There is no easy answer for this as many laws are state specific and federal government grants may have specific requirements for document retention.  A formal document retention and destruction policy is considered an important best practice.
  15. Are not-for-profits allowed to make a profit?  They should and a modest surplus maybe a good goal as well.  This will allow the organization to build up reserves and helps to contribute to long-term financial sustainability.    The term not-for-profit comes from the fact that the organization exists to benefit the public and has no owners.

Please be advised that this is only an introduction to financial governance and does not address all the areas that an organization should be concerned with.  We would be glad to assist your organization with training and make sure you meet the requirements of financial governance and leadership.

What is the best way to segregate financial duties in a small to medium sized Nonprofit?

Small to medium sized NPF’s struggle with segregating financial duties. Volunteers and Outside experts may play key roles in ensuring the proper segregation of duties. The best course is to segregrate duties to minimize risks and prevent fraud. The following reference charts are available for organizations with two, three, or four employees involved in the outsource function. If you only have one employee, we would recommend including our firm or another outside expert or volunteer to help with segregation of duties.

The following reference charts are provided to provide examples of segregation of duties.  Please contact us before you implement any of these suggestions.

Sample Organization with two employees

Sample Organization with three employees

Sample Organization with four employees

This would allow be good time to evaluate your financial department including updating your financial policies and procedures manual for the finance departments responsibilities.

2018 Central Indiana Nonprofit Salary Survey is Available

2018 Central Indiana Nonprofit Salary Survey is Available

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

It is becoming more difficult to attract and retain talent.  Also, it is important to review your salaries and benefits compensation compared to the market.  It is becoming clear that long term-sustainability and staff retention with competitive wages are linked.  We have provided this resource through our free white paper so please feel free to download this resource.

We hope this resource will help to provide nonprofit leaders from all service sectors and sizes to explore compensation and benefits for over 25 typical positions with the ultimate goal or attracting and retaining the talent to achieve your organization missions.

We serve quite a few clients outside this service area so we thought we would share it to all as the sample size is almost twice the typical sample size and is provided at no charge by Charitable Advisors and their sponsors which we have been in the past.

We invite you to download ‘2018 Central Indiana Nonprofit Salary Survey

Financial Technologies Management LLC (FTM) has been serving the accounting services and technology needs of nonprofits since 1999. Our exclusive focus on nonprofit organizations means we have the experience and proven track record to guide you to the best combination of accounting resources to provide the optimal capacity, utmost stewardship and ability to fulfill your mission.

Effective Grants Management

In order to provide effective grants management, we need to make sure that we are performing bookkeeping at the grant level.  Our grant accounting needs to properly allocate costs to the grants while maximizing our grant reimbursement and avoiding any cost disallowance.

Our board members and related governance should be knowledgeable and informed about grant budgets and compliance requirements.  The board should stay knowledgeable of grant administration trends, developments, and regulations.  The board should understand what the organization is committed to and are Its programs delivering what is required.

The program staff needs to be involved in the data collection and reporting responsibilities including the proper reporting to the correct grant budget categories.  We need to establish and schedule future grant deadlines to insure timely grant report submission.  We would suggest sharing the grant agreement with the program staff to insure all grant requirements and deadlines are met.

Federal grants are governed by the super circular which is also referred to as the uniform grant guidance.   Auditors audit based on these requirements with the assumption that the nonprofit is knowledgeable and informed about this grant guidance.  Federal grants and awards are specifically identified and require a financial management system that identifies the source and application of federal funded activities.  Federal grants typically require written procedures around payment requirements, allowability of costs, procurement procedures, and standards of conduct.  For example, procurement procedures need to be written with good procurement records and follow the guidelines.

The grant audit requirements include the ability for management to prepare the Schedule of Federal Awards (SEFA) and it should be reconciled to the accounting records.  If the SEFA is a required part of the audited financial statements, the auditor will issue an opinion if the SEFA is fairly stated as a part of the audited financial statements.

Cost allocations are an integral part of effective grants management.  Effective cost allocations will allow to report and recover the fully loaded program costs to facilities and administrative costs.  Some organizations could benefit from documenting their cost allocation and federal programs may require a formal cost allocation plan.  Some acceptable methods of cost allocation would include hours worked for variable costs, and square footage for fixed costs like facilities.

Grant advance would be for grants that provide advanced funding.  It is important that you don’t spend these restricted funds on other activities and you can keep track of restricted expenditures and restricted grant cash balance.  You may want to track these advances by grant and as deferred revenue to show how much of the cash or accounts receivable balance is restricted.

Cost reimbursement for grants require you to submit reimbursement request timely to minimize cash flow delays.   Your grantors typically believe you have already paid these costs when you submit your reimbursement request.  You may want to obtain a line of credit for reimbursement delays and disclose the possible longer payment terms with your contractors and vendors.

The grant reporting needs include grant budgets which match grant budget line items with financial reporting.  Grant reporting should be able to report total grant spending including direct and indirect cost allocation.   Proper grant reporting requires a grant reconciliation to insure internal and external reports agree and that you are maximizing the reimbursement along with minimizing over and under grant spending.

Grant close out requires you met the compliance requirements and make any final grant budget revisions.  You will want to make sure you make any budget revisions in a timely manner to make sure you have time for any grant budget revision approval that is required.

Your accounting system should be able to meet your grantor reporting needs including their budget line items.   This typically requires segment tracking to track your grant as a separate fund including tracking by program.

Some examples of lack of effective grants management would include grant findings, monitoring visits, spending issues, and lack of a grant budget and related projections.

It is important that you continue to strive for effective grants management within your organization.  Our firm is here to help your organization perform more effective grants management so please let us know if we can be of assistance.

Overlooked Benefits of Outsourcing Nonprofit Accounting

Overlooked Benefits of Outsourcing Nonprofit Accounting

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

In the nonprofit community, outsourcing typically means long-term delegation of key operation to outside experts. The accompanying expectation is improvement of the quality, strengthening effectiveness, and lowering or controlling costs.

A key difference in the nonprofit sector is not only controlling costs, but becoming a more effective organization. Finance and accounting departments are two essential back-office areas in nonprofit organizations.  Nonprofits typically outsource accounting already for payroll processing and audit services so it is not surprising that nonprofits are looking at other aspects of the the finance and accounting department to outsource.

With limited resources, a nonprofit can outsource some or all its financial functions, which can help a nonprofit efficiently staff and conduct its financial operations. It also respects the board and executives limited time or expertise to manage the finance functions, and allow more allocation of resources toward mission and program outcomes.

Here are eight overlooked, and sometimes unknown, benefits of outsourcing nonprofit accounting.

  1. Improved efficiencies. The less time internal staff members spend on duties that can be outsourced, the more time they can focus on mission and program outcomes. Typically, outsourcing also results in more timely and accurate financial information, which leads to a better operating organization. One way to assess this is to review how much time is currently spent weekly on accounting and finance to determine where this time could be better utilized with a better functioning finance department.  Bookkeeping and Accounting is time-consuming especially when dealing with multiple responsibilities like human resources, information technology, facilities, and other back office responsibilities.  An outsourced accountant allows your organization to focus on getting all of the back office function completed and work with program staff.
  2. Reduce costs. The organization can save money by outsourcing the finance functions that are not core to its mission. It is not uncommon for an organization to save 20 to 40 percent in total personnel costs and control these costs.  On-staff accountants often have to perform administrative tasks that could be performed by lower level paid staff.  By purchasing services and expertise for time needed by your organization, you can better afford the multiple staff levels an organization needs that includes bookkeeping, accounting, controller, and CFO service levels.  An additional cost saving is that services can be provided off-site, which can save facility costs and overhead-related expenses. Outsourcing can be used for major finance projects including the annual audit, budget preparation, software implementation, and other projects that drain internal staff’s time and energy. There are many intangible benefits to include timely and accurate financial reports, eliminated frustrations related to staff management and turnover, and saving management’s valuable time. If your accounting staff leaves for another job, the knowledge and expertise leaves the organization, as well, and is typically costly and difficult to replace.
  3. Reduce fraud threat. Segregating accounting duties between internal and external staff inherently reduces fraud risks. Outsourced accounting provides the organization with checks and balances along the proper oversight to prevent fraud. Many nonprofits rely exclusively on external auditors to detect fraud but these are not intended to detect fraud and only detect fraud it 3 percent of the time. The increased segregation of duties strengthens your internal controls and procedures, while providing increased transparency and accountability in the overall financial operations.  The Executive Director doesn’t typically have the time, desire, and expertise to manage the accounting function so using an outside expert maybe the best way to properly manage the accounting and finance function.  Most nonprofits only have one internal accounting staff that does all the accounting including all cash receipts, cash disbursements, and reconciling the bank accounts which increases your risks of fraud.  Outsourced accounting provides you with the checks and balances, as well as the oversight that you need to prevent fraud.
  4. Higher level of expertise. Many nonprofits can’t afford to employ a staff member who has controller and CFO skill sets and can perform the day-to-day bookkeeping and accounting needs for an organization. By outsourcing, you can take advantage of an expert team’s significant financial expertise, while staying current on the latest regulations and laws. Best practices and improved efficiency can result from the implementation and improve your accounting and reporting functions. The higher-level expertise provides a strategic and fresh perspective to identify deficiencies and add capacity to enable bookkeeping and accounting staff to complete day-to-day activities.  Outsourced accountant likely has a number of individuals they can consult to provide them with the knowledge and expertise they need to benefit the nonprofit they are serving.
  5. Ability to scale. A nonprofit organization needs the flexibility to increase or decrease the size of its finance department, a difficult task when you have allocated internal staff to the finance function. With outsourcing, you can scale your service level up or down to meet your current situation and needs. You can outsource certain finance functions or the entire accounting function. Outsourcing can be performed on-site or off-site, which also provides flexibility to the organization.
  6. Accounting software expertise. It is unlikely that the internal staff will be able to stay current and fully utilize the updated accounting software. Normally, an organization is faced with staff turnover and no training budget. It is likely that the internal staff has never experienced a new software implementation and is relying on how previous internal staff utilized the accounting software. Furthermore, internal processes and systems don’t change to accommodate new software features and enhancements so software utilization doesn’t improve.  An outsourced accountant with technology expertise will likely be current with technology from having multiple clients experiences and the necessity to be as efficient as possible.
  7. Better manage your finance and accounting function.  What type of information are your currently receiving from your accounting department?  Is it real time financial information and is it timely and accurate?  Does it help you with financial planning and decision making including managing cash flow and planning for budgeting and financial projections?  An outsourced accountant can help you better manage your finance and accounting function and help your organization get to the more important financial areas.   It will also provide better financial accountability and transparency for the organization.
  8. Stay current with regulations and laws.  Most organizations don’t have time to stay up with the constantly changing regulations, new accounting standards, Internal Revenue Service, and other oversight organizations.  An outsourced accountant will likely be current with these changes and will adjust service levels to meet the latest requirements.

Outsourcing accounting provides nonprofit organizations with a team of experts who have multiple client experiences which benefits its clients and the nonprofit organization’s it serves.

When considering outsourcing any accounting function, make sure you work with several staff including a manager or partner who’ll become familiar with your organization.  This will help with the continuation of services and provide additional resources and expertise to the board, finance committee, investment committee, treasurer, and Executive Director.

Having the right team in place allow you to focus more resources on your mission and related program outcomes while having a better functioning finance function. It is important that you have the right expertise with an outsourcing firm that you trust and enjoy working together so that a long-term relationship can develop. Keep in mind the organization will still be making the financial decisions, but should be able to make better decisions with the financial advisor performing the role and making recommendations to assist with the organization’s decision-making. Look for a firm that will tailor to clients’ needs and become an extension of the organization’s team regardless of the service levels.

Hiring an Accountant for your Nonprofit Isn’t Gettting Any Easier

Overall unemployment levels are historically low at 3 – 4% which is approaching full employment.   Robert Half reports that unemployment for accounts is actually below 2%.  As a result, hiring qualified talent is becoming more difficult if not impossible to achieve.  Nonprofits make double the number of errors compared to for profit businesses due to the complexity and under investing in the nonprofit accounting function.  Most nonprofits use accounting software that is not designed for nonprofit accounting.  This might be the perfect time to explore outsourcing a portion of the accounting depending on what types of activities you need internal staff to perform.

In the nonprofit community, outsourcing typically means long-term delegation of key operation to outside experts.  The accompanying expectation is improvement of the quality, strengthening effectiveness, and lowering or controlling costs.

A key difference in the nonprofit sector is not only controlling costs, but becoming a more effective organization.

Outsourcing accounting provides nonprofit organizations with a team of experts who have multiple client experiences which benefits its clients and the nonprofit organization’s it serves.  FTM has a team of nonprofit accounting experts to assist your organization with its accounting and finance function including hiring and training your internal staff.

You should look for the following in any accountant candidate that you are considering hiring for your Nonprofit:

  1. Your accountant should be able to keep your finances organized and under control.
  2. Your accountant should be able to enter your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities into accounting software.
  3.  Your accountant should understand the IRS requirements and generally accepted accounting practices to insure financial reports are properly prepared and accurate.
  4. Your accountant will make sure any employer taxes and tax filings are completed timely.
  5. Your accountant should be familiar with fund accounting and used fund accounting software.
  6. Your accountant should be familiar with reporting and be able to answer questions efficiently and effectively.
  7. Your accountant should be a resourceful problem solver.
  8. Your accountant should be self-motivated.

As difficult as it is to hire a good accountant, hiring an incompetent or incompatible person is even worse.    Competition for strong candidates can be challenging.  You can recruit applicants by asking us, your auditor, advertise in different places, and announce broadly.  You will want to assess the technical skills, communication skills, and timeliness of task completion of the applicants.    You will need to spend time on reference checks and be sure to ask about relevant nonprofit accounting experience and familiarity with your accounting software.  If cash flow is a significant problem in your organization, discuss it with the finalists.  When deciding salary, you might want to check with salary surveys or other organizations to see what they pay.

There are many right ways to hire a great accountant, and as you do so remember to balance your need for technical skills with someone who will help you strategize what are the best decisions for the organization.