Nonprofit Payroll Risks and Controls

Some organizations run on volunteers only, but many need employees to perform certain tasks. Since having employees is costly, it’s no surprise that payroll is usually the biggest expense in the financial statements. Running payroll can be difficult, and while many organizations contract out outside payroll services, some prefer to process it in-house. Some key risks and controls with payroll are:

Risk: Time sheets could contain wrong information.

In many organizations receiving government funds, everyone files time sheets—even the president—to support charging grants “real” salaries rather than estimated/budgeted ones. Fortunately, many organizations use computerized timekeeping devices and time sheets that once implemented, reduce errors and confusion significantly.

A traditional internal control is for nonprofits to require supervisory approvals on time sheets (manual or electronic) to make sure hours and overtime are authorized. Auditors typically verify if the time charged to a grant was allocated and authorized properly. If the auditor finds errors or no time sheets, or time sheets with no approvals, the scope of the audit is likely to increase, becoming more expensive.

Risk: Employees may be fictitious.

Each employee should file the proper paperwork with human resources and should visit the HR department personally. I know of a case where a program supervisor “hired” a relative part-time who was a “ghost employee.” The nonprofit paid the “employee” for six months, while the supervisor cashed the paychecks.

It was only after a problem with the time sheet of this person (all fake) that the human resources manager got involved, and the fraud was discovered. So, it’s crucial for HR to see and meet with all employees, including part-timers to be sure they’re real and are actually working for the organization.

Risk: Unauthorized payroll changes or increases happen.

To make sure payroll records are correct, department managers should review and sign off payroll registers regarding their department at least once a quarter. Many department managers get the dollar amount of their department’s payroll expenses through regular internal financial reporting, but not the details.

So, having managers verify payroll numbers, overtime, sick days, vacations, etc. is very helpful in keeping it all correct. If they see someone claiming overtime that the manager didn’t approve, he or she can follow up on it.

Controllers or accounting managers should review payroll registers and change reports to make sure the persons running payroll aren’t paying themselves unauthorized overtime or salary increases—a fraud I witnessed that could have been prevented had the controller taken a look at payroll reports regularly.

Risk: Paying terminated employees by mistake.

One issue I often see with payroll relates to nonprofits paying terminated employees because payroll staff didn’t know about the terminations. Once paid, it’s tough to get the money back.  So, it’s important for human resources and managers to notify the payroll department when people quit or are let go. Staff may need to process final checks and update the payroll system.

Nonprofits may implement policies and procedures, including a checklist to follow when employees leave. Many details are involved, such as COBRA requirements that need to be handled correctly or the organization could be liable for fines.

Risk: Payroll information may leak.

Confidentiality is essential with payroll records. Nonprofits must keep all payroll-related documents, including time sheets, in safe, locked filing cabinets where only a few selected authorized personnel are allowed in. Similar security measures must be considered with access to the computerized payroll systems that should be very limited.

Nonprofits should hire people who are discreet and don’t discuss confidential matters with others in the organization. They should avoid using email when mentioning any sensitive payroll information because the system may not be secure enough.

Excerpt from book Nonprofit Finance – A Practical Guide Second Edition — https://goo.gl/M563u9

 

2018 Changes to Nonprofit Reporting

Financial statements of nonprofits will look at bit different in 2018. The changes may not be that noticeable to the untrained eye, but they will happen due to FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) attempt to make financial reporting easier to understand. Even though current reporting rules have been in place for over 20 years, many people have complained that the financial statements of nonprofits are confusing not providing enough information to assess liquidity and ability to pay bills. This update, known as ASU 2016-14, focuses on these concerns.

“Not-for-profit organizations that will be affected include charities, foundations, colleges and universities, health care providers, religious organizations, trade associations, and cultural institutions, among others” (FASB.org)

The main changes regarding this accounting update are:

Only two classes of net assets

As you may know, net assets are elements that hold information about nonprofits, accumulating increases and decreases in revenues and expenses throughout the years. A nonprofit account always belongs to a net asset, traditionally classified as unrestricted, temporarily and permanently restricted. No more. After this update, we will have only two classifications of net assets:

1-Net Assets Without Donor Restrictions, comparable to the “old” unrestricted net asset
2-Net Assets With Donor Restrictions, combining the “old” temporarily restricted and permanently restricted net assets.

So, instead of reporting on three net assets, as has been the case until now, with statements showing three columns or lines, there will be only two net assets.  It doesn’t mean that the accounting of temporarily and permanently restricted net assets need to change internally, but these are now combined in the “official” financial statements.  Most likely, the reporting on the accounting software will need to be modified to accommodate the update requirements.

Underwater value of endowments 

Organizations may receive endowment funds that are held for long-term or perpetuity. When the fair market value of such investments is lower than the original value of the gifts, they are said to be “underwater.” Unfortunately, that has been the case with the volatility of the stock market and other losses. Currently, such losses are reported under the unrestricted net assets area. However, after this update, accumulated losses are to be shown within the endowment fund — net assets with donor restrictions.

Detailed information about endowments is also required as disclosures on the official financial statements, such as the current fair market value of the endowment, any amount required to be maintained, and any deficiencies of the underwater endowment fund.

Liquidity

Liquidity is the ability of a nonprofit to pay its bills, a valid concern to many donors and grantors. As many donors restrict gifts, it can be hard to determine if an organization has the money necessary to pay its current bills. Financial flexibility is essential for any nonprofit to be viable long-term, so this update requires disclosures about how an organization will be able to meet its financial obligations for the next 12 months. Specific resources available should be disclosed, such as prior year’s reserves and any money restricted by the board.

For more information, check out the book “Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide –  Second Edition”

Yikes— Nonprofit fraud again….

It’s too common to hear that a trusted person has taken money from a nonprofit illegally. Even a little bit makes my blood boil. Stealing from any business is bad, but from a nonprofit that provides goods and services to a community is just despicable. The problem is that the organization staff and managers may not aware that something is amiss or odd. People are busy with their own jobs and day-to-day activities to focus on situations that may point to internal fraud. Ghost employees and unauthorized overtime pay come to mind…

Ghost Employee

A ghost employee situation happens when someone is hired and paid, but he or she doesn’t really exist and, not surprisingly, never shows up for work. But nobody notices it. I have this happening with a nonprofit program for youth where a manager hired this new person, Mary, who filled out timesheets and was very, very quiet.  This manager was an old-timer with the organization and could control many aspects of the program, which was located in a different building. When asked, she would give glowing reviews of Mary, a great find.

This situation went on for a few months. Mary was too busy to show up at the HR office to sign papers and the manager would take all to her, as to not inconvenience the HR dept. that was busy with other activities. Paychecks and other stuff were always picked up by the manager as well. Things were going well for Mary, until someone in HR had to talk to her about benefits. And she was nowhere to be found. Actually, Mary never existed.

The manager used a relative’s name and social security to “hire” Mary.  In fact, the manager was cashing all payroll checks after Mary would endorse them to a “business checking account” the manager had.

This ruse may not have worked with a smaller nonprofit, where everybody knows everybody, but it can happen with large ones that operate in various locations and have many employees in various programs. What can be done to avoid this situation?

1- HR should meet every employee and match the face with a drivers’ license or other identification. If one cannot meet personally, then at least a video talk can be utilized.

2- Run background checks on all employees. In the case of Mary, for example, the last job the real one had was in the seventies, so a background check would have helped to identify strange jobs or situations that may raise suspicion.

3- If a nonprofit is large enough to have an internal audit department, auditors should always check on new hires to make sure they are working where they are supposed to be.  They also could personally meet all employees.

4- Payroll should distribute checks or check stubs to employees personally at least once every quarter or year. The point is to meet new employees.

5- Watch out for employees who claim very little or nothing to be withheld in taxes. They could be just fake employees used for someone else to cash in.

Unauthorized Overtime Pay

This type of theft happens when someone gives him or herself a bump in pay by showing overtime that wasn’t authorized and never happened. While many organizations have policies regarding payment of overtime, this fraud keeps going on in government, for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Take Amtrak, for instance, that paid $200 million in overtime in 2014. Unfortunately, a lot has been deemed as fraudulent according to the Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General  (Dailysignal.com).

The fake overtime bid can be perpetrated by staff, managers and payroll personnel  Actually, I have seen this happening when finance managers and others were not paying attention, didn’t supervise the guy running payroll, and didn’t know much about controls. He paid himself overtime running into the 5 figures, which was material for the nonprofit. Since overtime pay can be time and a half or even more, the nonprofit lost quite a lot of money with this fraud.

Sometimes employees fake a supervisor approval signature or may change a time sheet after it’s approved. This problem is minimized with online or electronic time sheets, but odd things can still happen, as the authorization may be automatic and not reviewed carefully by a supervisor.

Like the ghost employee fraud, this one is harder to identify with larger organizations, where details may get lost and certain people may work in more than one department, making payroll a bit complex and allowing the fraud to happen.

What can nonprofits do to minimize the problem of unauthorized overtime pay?

1- Any overtime claimed by managers should be scrutinized since managers are usually exempt from overtime.

2- Be sure managers, especially the ones supervising payroll, have the time and focus to reviewing payroll reports. Oftentimes, managers, especially in the administrative area, wear too many hats, are spread too thinly to don’t a good job in paying attention to payroll issues, including overtime and exceptions reports.

3- Department leaders should sign off on payroll reports at least once every quarter to document that they looked at the information.  The act of manually sign off usually make people pay a bit more attention to such reports.

4-Know the total payroll amount for each department and if totals on payroll reports are very different, inquire about it.  Usually, this is done using budget numbers related to wages and benefits.

It’s a shame that people are willing to take advantage of nonprofits to enrich themselves. But it does happen and organizations should do whatever they can to minimize this problem or they may lose funds and credibility, which could spell disaster for any business.  Don’t wait until something happens to take action to prevent these types of fraud.
Interested on CPE credits regarding nonprofits?  Online Practical CPE Courses

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