Restricted grants can be tricky

Look at ALL requirements of such grants, or you can get in trouble and may need to return the funds.  This can get really sticky.

 

http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/u-chicago-donors-want-money-back/

Kindle Version Available

Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide is available now as a kindle book on Amazon:

http://amzn.to/2GF2E8W

 

Grant Audits

Many organizations receive grants and as expected, the federal government is concerned that the grants are spent properly, requiring audits of nonprofit recipients in addition to regular visits from the federal agency staff.

Instead of having a separate audit of each major grant, the Single Audit allows for one independent audit covering all federal grant contracts. It usually combines an audit of the organization and its grants. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, “a single audit covers the entire scope of the organization’s financial operations, ensuring that:

  • The financial statements are presented fairly;
  • The organization has an adequate internal control structure, and that
  • The organization is in compliance with any special government regulations/laws that apply to the specific type of federal funding the audit covers.”

These single audits are required if the nonprofit has spent $750,000 or more in federal funds (This threshold is likely to change in the future). Single audits are performed by independent CPA firms, which usually carry out both regular and single audits within the same engagement, releasing the results in two different reports—one for the regular portion and another for the grant audit.

During a single audit, a CPA firm evaluates the fairness of the financial statements and the schedule of federal financial assistance, which contains information about grants. To this end, auditors assess risk by reviewing prior findings, internal controls, and usage of contractors. Also, CPA personnel should consider the materiality of the funds, with major grants often getting most of the attention.

The Super Circular clarifies that auditors are responsible for following up on any deficiencies, also called “findings.” The nonprofit is supposed to respond with a corrective action plan. All of these documents are forwarded to the appropriate government agency.

Management should be aware of the cumulative grant spending because as the organization gets closer to the $750,000 in annual grant expenses, it should start budgeting for the single audit. It doesn’t come cheap, and grant funds may have to be adjusted to include this cost.

Note that nonprofits may need to have a regular, less detailed audit to comply with grantor or state rules. For example, the states of Connecticut and Hawaii require the filing of audited financial statements of charities with an annual gross income of $500,000 or more regardless of federal funding. This audit is less detailed and cheaper than the Single Audit, but it needs to be done.

 

Excerpted from Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide — Second edition –available at Amazon — https://goo.gl/M563u9

No Audit Freak Out

One of the most common audits of a nonprofit organization is the one performed by an independent CPA firm, usually, every year. This work may be a requirement for many grantors who want assurance that the funds have been used properly. Auditors may ask detailed questions or require certain information that may not be readily accessible. However,  there is no need to panic – be prepared and understand the process, which tends to be the same every year. Some tips below are to help you deal with the audit, which is one of those processes that many organizations go through, not just yours.

Tip #1– Sometimes staff with not much experience conduct the audit,  so, try to help them and show them the way, or they may get lost and the audit may take longer. The idea here is to have a helpful, not a defensive attitude. It can be frustrating to have to do this every year with different audit staff, but it’s part of the game. The good news is that it’s common for a former team member in an audit to return the following year as a Sr. or Supervisor so that you won’t have to train auditor again.

Tip #2- Be sure to have all the reports and items mentioned on the audit list, often given to the client a few weeks before the audit. If you don’t have all, call the CPA firm and let them know. Maybe you have other reports or items that can be alternatives to what’s on the list. Your audit may also be postponed until you have all the documents. Most accounting firms schedule nonprofit audits a few months during the year, so you may have some flexibility there.

Tip #3– Hire temp workers or volunteers on an as-needed basis to get all the documentation done, prepare worksheets, and help with filing, copying, and other tasks. Some organizations also use temps to assist with the day-to-day activities while the accounting folks are busy with the auditors. Your accounting staff may not be able to do their regular jobs and at the same time give auditors the attention and information they need. So, help at the right time can lessen the stress. Usually, having temps do a specific task, such as entering invoices for payment, works the best because the work is repetitive and training time is minimum. If you’re lucky to have an accountant on your board or as a volunteer, you can give him or her more involved financial tasks.

Tip #4– Communicate often with the manager responsible for the audit to identify issues or bottlenecks. Sometimes auditors use too technical language that the nonprofit staff may not understand and panic. Or maybe there’s a problem in finding information or explanations for certain transactions that you may be familiar with. The goal is to have a quick, clean audit with no major issues or conflicts. The quicker you know of problems, the smoother the process will be.  Make a point to contact the manager at least once every few days.

Tip #5- Notify everyone in the organization of the upcoming audit, since auditors may need to talk to people in other areas of the nonprofit, such as programs and HR. Warn managers and staff that they may need to present certain things to the auditors, including showing them confidential HR and payroll files and reports. Since auditors usually request the same items and calculations, such as vacation accruals every year, the requests shouldn’t be that surprising. But it’s always good to let people know beforehand.

Other Considerations -Freaking out with questions asked by auditors makes no sense— usually, they follow a pre-set program that may not fit your organization 100%, so you can explain to them the situation in a respectful way and offer alternatives.  Ask the auditors what goals they’re trying to get at.  Maybe they are looking at mitigating a risk that doesn’t really apply to your nonprofit, so let them know about it. CCH – Wolters Kluwer Audit guides, for instance, are very popular with many CPA firms that use their audit programs to guide them through this process.  If you’re interested, you could buy the guides, even if it’s expensive.

You can check the new edition of the book Nonprofit Finance A Practical Guide at https://goo.gl/M563u9

Nonprofit Finance and Management Explained

The second edition of my book, “Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide,” is out.  It includes detailed coverage of FASB update regarding reporting, details about liquidity and other details effective in 2018.   For example, the official financial reporting will show only two net assets, but internally, a nonprofit should maintain the three net assets separately and combine the temporarily and permanently restricted for reporting only.

Internal controls are covered in detail for cash, payables and computerized systems, giving ideas about how to minimize certain risks specific to the nonprofit sector.

Like the first edition, nominated for a McAdam Book Award, this second one has many examples and suggestions based on real-life experience, not just theories.  It was written with both the accountant and the non-accountant in mind, so that people of different backgrounds can benefit from the material and put it to good use right away.

You can check the new edition at https://goo.gl/M563u9

Challenges in Financial Planning of Nonprofits

Nonprofits need to plan for their future as any other firm. However, because of the nature of nonprofits, planning can be quite a challenge. While for-profits rely on the sale of goods and services, nonprofits must count on grants and donations for operations. Expenses are mostly related to programs and are very dependent on the income stream. Since the point of a nonprofit is not to generate profits, many don’t have that much left over after they spend all revenues. So detailed planning is a must. Some of the challenges of planning for nonprofits are:

Income uncertainty

Bills are a sure thing, but income may be received after a campaign, a gala event or gifts and grants. Nonprofits may not be able to ascertain the amounts and timing of such income as donors that may have given certain funds in the past may not be able to keep on giving at the same level. Grants may be cut or delayed with no prior notice. Also, grant income may decrease if auditors find noncompliance items and those could be substantial and unexpected. The key here is for the organization to learn of any changes in income stream the earliest possible time to be able to adjust for those.

Because of this instability, it’s always good for a nonprofit to keep a “cushion,” also known as a reserve to be used when the unexpected hits. Add a bit to budgeted expenses, just in case, and contact major donors and grantors to verify any changes in revenue.

Lack of financial knowledge

Many nonprofits are headed by kind people with the best intentions and good contacts. But too often the organization lacks financial education and experience. Basic financial concepts may be missing. Sometimes people are not aware that they need help in this area until something happens that doesn’t make sense to them. This vacuum can pose additional challenges on planning since many concepts may be new to management.

Boards of directors must have people with financial expertise to help in this process and provide guidance in these matters. Also, management should make efforts to learn about accounting and finance so that they can make right decisions. Usually, having a bookkeeper with some experience with nonprofits is not enough to see “the big picture.”

Lack of Time

Typically, nonprofit managers wear many hats, are hands-on, and there is no time to focus on planning and financial matters. It’s hard to think about financial planning and strategy when so many things need to be done today. The result is that usually information is pulled in a hurry and not analyzed, resulting in poor planning and errors.

It’s a good idea to have appointments and set schedules for managers to talk about planning and strategy, A bookkeeper or accountant can only do so much in financial planning. He or she needs input from various areas such as from managers regarding new programs and fundraising folks about new grants or changes in donations.

Planning for nonprofits pose particular challenges but can be done. Management can learn from past mistakes and try to get a better planning model moving forward.  The concept here is that nonprofits must take planning seriously and keep on improving it. Donors and grantors like to see a nonprofit planning ahead and not just putting off fires.

 

You can check out my books at:

Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide -Second Edition — First edition was nominated for a  2016 McAdam Book Award

15 Quick Tips on Becoming a Great Consultant  — Free on Kindle Unlimited

 

Practical Online CPE Courses

If you need CPE classes as a CPA or other financial professional, you may like my online self-study courses offered by many providers, including:

Financial Statements of Nonprofits are Different  — CCH- Wolters Kluwer

Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide — CCH- Wolters Kluwer

Ethics for Enrolled Agents– CPE Depot

Tips on Becoming a Great Consultant- CPE247 — used as training book on CPA and consulting firm.

You can also check out my books:

Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide — Nominated for a  2016 McAdam Book Award

15 Quick Tips on Becoming a Great Consultant  — Free on Kindle Unlimited

 

 

Nonprofit Budgets Explained

Budgets are financial guidelines to make sure the organizations are going in the right direction. Like any other business, nonprofits need to plan ahead using budgets, often based on prior financial data and expectations for the future. This process, done a few months before the new year starts, involves managers and board members, to make sure the budget is reasonable and attainable.

There are many ways to start the budgeting process. Many organizations develop budgets based on income first and then expenses, while others start with expenses and then work on the revenue — it depends on the nature of the organization. For example, when a nonprofit receives most of its income from grants, it’s easier to estimate income first and then work on expenses.

Budgeting is a group effort

In order to develop a good budget, you need to be realistic and detailed-oriented.  A lot of research is required, and not just financial, but programmatic as well — is the nonprofit going to expand or shrink certain programs?  Are there any plans for construction or another capital improvement?  You cannot do it in a bubble –you need a lot of information from the past and from the future, and that usually involves many meetings and discussions.

Use prior financial reports

The first step to create a budget is to print out current revenue and expense detailed report by account and use that as your basis for the future. For example, if you see rent expense of $1,000 a month, then you should budget for this amount for the following year unless you know that the rent will increase or decrease in the near future. Look at each account and try to forecast the best you can about the following year. This type of work is often done during the last months of the prior year so that any trends or new information is included in the budget.

Consider major changes and grants

Although budgets are usually done once a year and then the numbers remain static, there are instances where budgets are changed and re-approved by the Board during the year. This may happen when a nonprofit loses or gains major funding by surprise, making the original budget obsolete.

Nonprofits receiving government funds incorporate grant budgets as their own. It doesn’t make sense to use multiple budgets — it creates confusion.  Organizations also need to consider government cuts and how that would affect operations.  As a rule, budgeting for a bit more revenue than expenses, allowing for cuts and unexpected expenses is a sensible approach. It’s always good to have a bit of a financial cushion.

Budget follow up is a must

Once budget numbers are approved by the Board and entered in the accounting system, the next step is to get actual vs. budget reports starting with the first month of the new year. Be sure to look at budget variances for the month and year-to-date. If you only look at monthly numbers, you may miss variances that may be small on a month-by-month basis, but significant for the year. For instance, if you see that your revenue is down $10,000 this month, it may not mean much, but if you compare year-to-date actual to budget numbers, you may have a $100,000 hole in the budget that needs to be corrected by using funds from prior years or by cutting down expenses.

Note that many nonprofits count on restricted funds to operate and that’s when confusion may start up. When developing an operating budget, differentiate between restricted revenues and others and be sure that donor documentation supports the decision to use restricted funds. You cannot unilaterally decide to use restricted funds — the donor must have given express permission for the money to be used a certain way.

More than one budget

Some organizations have separate budgets for capital expenditures to be used in major construction or another major project, which can be a sensible budget approach. Keep the operating budget separate and review both, looking for discrepancies and double counting. For instance, you may receive funds to construct a school and that should go towards the capital budget only — not towards operations. In some cases, the same funding may show up in two different budgets by mistake. Look out for those that can create a major problem.

Keep good documentation

As discussions are done and decisions are made regarding the budgets, keep good records that are always important when looking at budget vs. actual reports. If numbers are not going according to plan, it’s crucial to look at the reasons for the budget amounts. For example, if expenses for postage are way over budget, maybe the budget numbers didn’t account for a new campaign or for all campaign expenses.  This can help budgets be more accurate in the future.  Documentation can also help management in analyzing the financial reports to identify areas of real problem.

>>>BEWARE  Accounting or the financial department folks should NOT prepare the budget by themselves —- they need to contact others within the organization to finalize the budget process.
Check out the book “Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide” –– Nominated for the 2016 McAdam Book Award

Is Your Nonprofit Well-Organized?

Are you starting or organizing your nonprofit?  Any business needs a setup to operate effectively, and nonprofits are no different. A basic organization may be a no-brainer for some people, but may not be that obvious many as well.

One of the challenges of nonprofits is to create and manage a structure that works well. Many founders of nonprofits are not managers and do not have a background in management. They are “program” people. They created the nonprofit to fulfill a goal, a dream that they are familiar with, but management is not their expertise.  Knowing the basic structure of a nonprofit can only help in setting up an organization that is functional.

It is important for founders and boards of directors to realize this issue and to find proper personnel or volunteers to fill out the needed spots. I have seen new, small organizations fail to follow their mission statements because they didn’t have a basic infrastructure, management, personnel to deal with proper insurance, and other risk factors.

A common structure is for nonprofit operations to be divided into three areas,  all supervised by the board of directors that often employs an executive director to oversee operations.

  • Programs/ Services — MOST IMPORTANT 

With no program, the organization has no reason to exist, so this area is crucial to any nonprofit. Programs follow the mission statement of the organization.  If the mission is to feed the homeless, for instance, you won’t see programs to improve antique cars.  When in doubt, read the mission statement carefully.  Most expenses are expected to be happening in this area.

  • Management and General — usually overhead

Management and General area is the backbone of the organization, including administration and accounting.  It’s also called General and Administration or G&A. Someone needs to pay the bills,  select insurance, pay employees, all functions of this area.  Usually, tasks cannot be assigned to a specific program and are considered to be overhead by many grantors.  This area typically incurs the most expenses after programs.

  • Fundraising

This is the marketing arm of the nonprofit, dealing with grants, events, and overall fundraising activities.  Also known as “development,” people in this area contact donors, write grant proposals, follow up on prospective donors, including business and foundations. Fundraising should have the least costs of a nonprofit, unless the org. is a new one or starting a new major program.

Identification of these three main areas of nonprofit operations is crucial to set up proper accounting systems, internal controls, reporting, and management.  Sometimes it’s not that obvious.  For example, someone working in contract compliance is most likely part of management, even though the work relates to programs as well.  Cost allocation can be a challenge to many nonprofits.

BEWARE>>> Note that tax returns and most financial reports are classified by these three areas, and the IRS asks about the organization mission statement on its 990 forms to verify that indeed the programs are linked to the org. mission.

Check out the book “Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide” ––  First edition Nominated for the McAdam Book Award
 

Why Financial Rules Are Good for You

Oh no….Marcie from accounting is again asking for receipts, signatures and other stuff. Can’t she see that we’re busy?  What’s wrong with these people?  Where do they come up with these ideas? Well….there is a reason for this apparent madness and annoyance.

Many managers indeed get aggravated with demands from the accounting/financial department.  However, nonprofits have a lot to gain by following proper accounting requirements, such as requesting proper receipts or approvals. The requirements may seem a bit burdensome, but they serve important purposes within a nonprofit organization’s operations.  These requests are not to drive you nuts.

Oftentimes requirements for certain tasks are to assure that processes flow properly with enough check and balances to avoid errors or fraud. Below are a few important reasons for nonprofits to follow accounting requirements:

1- Financial requirements may be mandatory for recipients of federal and other government funding, such as demands for certain internal controls to avoid errors and misappropriations and the use of a budget. There is really no choice — either the nonprofit follows the prescribed requirements or funding stops.

2- The IRS specifically asks about financial tasks on the tax form 990, the information return filed by many nonprofits. For instance, the return explicitly inquires about the number of items reported on the form 1096, the Annual Summary and Transmittal of U.S. Information Returns. This is usually related to reporting payments to contractors over a certain amount. To comply with this inquiry properly, the nonprofit should have financial rules to capture this information.

3- The nonprofit must also follow all local, State and federal laws. For example, employees may need to file time sheets to be paid correctly. If they don’t follow this accounting rule, paychecks may be printed incorrectly, putting the nonprofit at risk for fines and penalties. So, accounting folks must require proper documentation and approvals so that this process run smoothly.

4- Following financial guidelines protect nonprofits from errors and fraud. An example would be the procedure of requiring approvals on all invoices to be paid. Usually, a supervisor approves such invoices to avoid payments for fake or wrong items or services. You don’t want employees charging the nonprofit for their own tech or other personal purchases.

5- Compliance with accounting requirements, including financial processes, are often evaluated by auditors to assess the risks of nonprofits. For instance, if an accounting requires monthly cash reconciliations, but the auditors note that they are actually done once every four months, most likely the audit risk will increase along with the costs of such audit. So, accounting requirements are to be followed ALL THE TIME to avoid problems. Even by the accounting department.

6-Financial  rules can help in building a nonprofit’s competence while minimizing confusion. For example, a rule to pay bills on only certain days every week may give employees the sense of a set order in finance. One cannot walk in and expect that a check would be ready within minutes. Financial rules can instill confidence and controls within a nonprofit.

Accounting, taxes change throughout the years, so don’t be surprised if the requirements change. For example, starting effectively in 2018, nonprofits must prove that they can pay their bills short term. This is a new requirement of FASB, the organization that dictates accounting rules for nonprofits. So, expect some new requirements from folks from the accounting department regarding this new guideline and others coming down the pipe.

You can check the new edition of the book Nonprofit Finance A Practical Guide at https://goo.gl/M563u9  -First edition nominated for a McAdam Book Award.