Outsourced Accounting

9 Common Internal Controls Your Nonprofit Should Have

Failure to understand internal control when identifying risks was the reason major issues come up at nonprofits 40 percent of the time, according to data from a AICPA Peer Review Program Study. Making sure your accountants and consultants understand remote monitoring and management (RMM) and internal controls is vital.

The best practice is to document internal controls so that there can be a complete risk assessment. The issues of internal controls and risk were discussed during the recent AICPA Nor-For-Profit industry conference in National Harbor, Md. The session presenters were Melissa Galasso, CPA, director, audit professional practices, in the Charlotte, N.C., office of Cherry Bekaert and Kris Ray, industry technical leader for Plante Moran in Southfield, Mich.

Internal control is designed, implemented and maintained to address identified business risks that threaten achievement of any of the entity’s objectives that concern reliability of financial reporting, effectiveness and efficiency of operations and compliance with laws and regulations.

Internal controls can provide only reasonable assurance that things won’t go sideways, according to the presenters. The reality is that human judgement can be faulty and that mitigates the controls, they said.

The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations has an integrated framework for internal control, the components of which are: Control Environment; Risk Assessment; Information and Communication; Control Activities; and, Monitoring.

Even the smallest of organizations have internal controls of one form or another, according to the presenters.

The 9 Common Internal Controls include:

  1. Strong tone at the top
  2. Leadership communicates importance of quality
  3. Accounts reconciled monthly
  4. Leaders review financial results
  5. Log-in credentials
  6. Limits on check signing
  7. Physical access to cash, Inventory
  8. Invoices marked paid to avoid double payment
  9. Payroll reviewed by leaders.

The NonProfit Times

 

What you should know about preparing your Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards (SEFA)?

Not-for-profit organizations often seek out grants and other awards in order to provide the necessary funding for their programs. It is important to know the source of all grants and awards as well as the requirements of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, Final Rule (Uniform Guidance). In this article we will explore a small but very important part of the Uniform Guidance requirements: The Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards (SEFA).

What is the SEFA and How is it Used?

In its simplest form, the SEFA is a financial statement schedule that lists an organization’s expenditures of federal assistance for the fiscal year by federal agency, grant number and amount. It is the organization’s (auditee’s) responsibility to prepare a complete and accurate SEFA, which is a key component of the reporting package required under the Uniform Guidance. The SEFA is also used by external auditors to determine the required procedures and test work under the Uniform Guidance.

How to Accumulate the Data for the SEFA

Every grant and award received needs to be evaluated in order to determine the funding source.  A checklist or standard intake form should be used to document every individual grant/award (even those that do not appear to be federally sourced). This process may involve some research, as the funding source may not be obvious in the grant/award paperwork.

  • All grants/awards should be reviewed in detail to determine if they contain any special provisions (for example, some awards require they be treated as major programs, even though they might not otherwise qualify as such).
  • If the grant/award contains federal funding, the organization will obtain the following: name of the federal agency, award period, Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number.
  • The grant/award should also be researched to determine if it is part of a cluster (including research and development) or a federal loan program.
  • If the grant/award is passed through to/ from a subrecipient, the organization will obtain the pass-through entity identifying number.

Gathering this information is time consuming, and obtaining the name and contact information of the program manager can be invaluable.

Prior to the grant/award becoming operational, the organization should review the OMB Compliance Supplement’s Matrix of Compliance Requirements. For every federally funded grant/award, personnel should be assigned for each area of compliance. Expenditures must be tracked for each individual grant/award. The accounting system must be set up to capture this information, and individuals must be established to assign expenses to each grant/award.

How to Prepare a Complete and Accurate SEFA         

If the organization has a good system of accumulating data for grants/awards, preparation of the SEFA should not be difficult. It is simply a matter or organizing the data in the appropriate format. The draft SEFA should be reviewed for the following:

  1. Are all awards sorted by federal program and agency?
  2. If received through a subrecipient, is the name and number of pass-through entity included?
  3. Review Uniform Guidance for clusters of awards. Are the federal programs within that cluster all separately identified within the cluster?
  4. Are Research and Development awards totaled by federal award?
  5. Are total federal awards excluded for loan or are loan guarantee programs included?
  6. Are total federal awards provided to subrecipients by program totaled?
  7. Are the required footnotes to the SEFA prepared?
  8. If any non-federal awards are included in the SEFA, are they clearly segregated and designated as non-federal awards?

Where are Some Useful Resources?

Organizations are encouraged to review the 2017 and 2018 Uniform Guidance Compliance Supplements located at Whitehouse.gov. The AICPA’s Government Audit Quality Center provides a free resource center for auditees.

Please contact us to help you with the requirements of the Uniform Guidance. We can assist you early in the process at an organizational level. This will help assure a smooth and successful process to manage your federal funds and the related compliance requirements.

Nonprofit Treasurer Roles and Responsibilities

When you think about it, it’s a bit inaccurate to refer to your organization as “nonprofit.” In fact, money is rarely far from the minds of your organization’s leaders. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Like your for-profit counterparts, you can’t succeed without maintaining sound fiscal health. That’s why the title of “treasurer” is so much more than an honorific. By watching over your organization’s “treasure,” the person holding that position facilitates the accomplishment of the nonprofit’s greater goals.

The role in a nutshell

The treasurer generally is charged with overseeing the management and reporting of the organization’s finances. In a large nonprofit with accounting staff and a chief financial officer, the treasurer will usually head a finance committee that reports to the board of directors. He or she focuses mainly on reviewing internally prepared financial reports and evaluating financial policies and procedures.

By contrast, in a smaller organization with no internal accounting staff, the treasurer may need to get down in the trenches — writing checks and making deposits, managing and safeguarding funds and maintaining financial integrity. Where applicable, he or she also might oversee outside bookkeepers, tax preparers, fundraisers and investment advisors.

Regardless of the organization’s size, the treasurer typically shepherds the development of the not-for-profit’s financial policies, such as those for investing, borrowing and cash reserves. And he or she presents regular treasurer’s reports to the board of directors. These can range from a simple “dashboard” to more detailed information.

Specific areas of concern

The treasurer must ride herd over several different areas. Depending on the organization’s resources, the treasurer’s degree of involvement will vary. He or she might take on the following duties personally or just provide the necessary oversight to confirm that staff is handling them appropriately.

Budget. The annual budget represents the financial map of the organization’s goals and how it plans to achieve them in the coming year. The treasurer should present the budget for board approval, being realistic about both revenues and expenses. He or she also should review current reports frequently for variances between actual and budgeted figures and determine the reasons for those discrepancies.

Financial reports. The board relies on the treasurer to provide timely and accurate financial information to support its decision-making. In addition to financial statements, the treasurer might supply information on financial ratios and trends that describe the organization’s current and projected financial status.

Compliance. Complying with relevant laws and tax regulations is a top priority. Among other things, the treasurer should work with your CPA and keep a calendar of reporting and filing deadlines to avoid late fees, penalties and the reputational damage they can bring.

Risk management. The treasurer also should coordinate with your CPA and insurance agent to regularly perform assessments that identify and mitigate risks to the organization’s assets, data and confidential information. You might have risks, for instance, related to the use of volunteers in money-handling positions. Mitigation could include internal controls designed to deter and detect fraud.

Audit. Once your nonprofit reaches a certain size, its books should be audited annually by an independent CPA. The treasurer should review the results and recommendations — asking questions where appropriate — and present them to the board.

The right person for the job

With so much responsibility, it’s clear that not just anyone can function well in the treasurer position. You need to be very selective about candidates’ qualifications.

For starters, the treasurer must have a demonstrable financial literacy, including a thorough understanding of the particular financial reports and accounting practices used by nonprofits. He or she also should possess an attention to detail, adherence to deadlines, patience, curiosity and recordkeeping skills. A passion for the cause also is valuable, as the treasurer needs the motivation to make, and keep up with, the ample time commitment required for the job. It helps, too, if the treasurer has some people skills — a grumpy introvert may not work well with staff and other board members.

The bottom line

Although the specific duties treasurers perform will vary depending on the not-for-profit’s circumstances, the importance of the job does not. Without a qualified treasurer performing proper oversight, your organization’s financial health will be in jeopardy. Investing in a thorough search for the right person will pay off in the long run.

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. 

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

 

 

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.