Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide

The Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide is designed to help non-profits understand and manage their financial resources effectively, ensuring that their accounting meets legal requirements and financial best practices.

Key areas the guide covers are:

  • Budgeting: How to create and manage a budget to ensure that your non-profit appropriately balances expenses with revenue.
  • Accounting Standards: What accounting standards non-profits must follow, and how to choose the correct accounting method for your non-profit.
  • Financial Reporting: How to create accurate and timely financial statements that comply with legal requirements and enable effective decision-making.
  • Audit Readiness: The steps to prepare for an audit and ensure that your non-profit fully complies with legal and financial requirements.

By using this guide, non-profits can ensure that their finances are managed effectively and transparently, helping them to achieve their mission and serve their community.

Budgeting for Non-profits

Budgeting is an important part of any organization, but especially for non-profits. It is a tool for managing funds and keeping track of expenses. In addition, it helps identify potential risks to the organization’s financial health and allows non-profits to plan for future expenses and income.

By creating an accurate budget, non-profits can track their performance and allocate resources more effectively. So let’s take a closer look at budgeting for non-profits.

Define and Establish Financial Goals and Responsibilities

Defining and establishing financial goals and responsibilities is crucial for budgeting and financial planning in non-profit organizations. It involves identifying the financial targets you want to achieve, along with the responsibilities of each organization member concerning financial management.

To establish financial goals and responsibilities in your non-profit, follow these steps:

  1. Define your financial goals: Identify your organization’s long-term and short-term goals. These should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive (SMART).
  2. Identify and prioritize spending: Make a list of spending priorities in your organization based on your goals. Identify mission-critical areas of your budget and allocate funding accordingly.
  3. Assign roles and responsibilities: Establish clear roles and responsibilities for each organization member to ensure accountability for financial management.
  4. Develop a budget: Based on the goals and priorities you have established in your organization, develop a budget that includes projected revenue, expenses, and cash flow.
  5. Monitor and adjust: Regularly monitor your budget’s performance and adjust as necessary to achieve your financial goals.

Pro tip: Regularly review your financial goals to ensure they align with your organization’s mission and values.

Develop Program-based Budgets

Developing program-based budgets is a crucial element of financial management for non-profits. Program-based budgets focus on the various activities and initiatives a non-profit undertakes, allowing for more accurate tracking and allocation of funds.

program-based budget will outline the costs associated with specific programs, including staffing, materials, and administrative expenses. This approach can help non-profits determine which programs are most cost-effective and which may require additional funding.

Non-profits should identify their central programs and activities and determine the costs associated with each one to develop a program-based budget. They should also consider external factors that may impact their finances, such as changes in funding sources or economic conditions.

Using program-based budgets, non-profits can make informed financial decisions and prioritize the programs most aligned with their mission and goals. It also helps stay accountable to donors and stakeholders by showing how their contributions are being used effectively.

Pro tip: It is essential to regularly review and adjust program-based budgets as needed to ensure that they remain accurate and up-to-date.

Understand the Differences Between Operating, Cash, and Capital Budgets

Operating, cash, and capital budgets are different types of budgets employed by non-profit organizations to manage their finances effectively.

An operating budget outlines a non-profit’s anticipated revenue and expenses for the upcoming fiscal year. This budget includes salaries, rent, utilities, and program expenses.

cash budget estimates the organization’s cash inflows and outflows over a specified period. This budget helps non-profits plan their cash reserves, manage liquidity, and avoid cash flow shortfalls.

capital budget outlines the non-profit’s an investment and long-term asset expenses, such as property, equipment, and infrastructure. This budget helps non-profits plan capital expenses ahead of time and avoid cash flow problems.

Understanding the differences between these budget types is essential for non-profit organizations to make informed financial decisions, plan for the future, and allocate resources effectively.

Accounting for Non-profits

Accounting for non-profits is a vital part of any successful organization. Accounting for non-profits involves many of the same principles as regular accounting, but it also has specific requirements unique to non-profits. In this guide, we’ll discuss the basics of accounting for non-profits, including:

  • The categories of expenses
  • The different methods of accounting
  • The available ways to track financial data

Establishing Financial Controls and Procedures

Establishing financial controls and procedures is crucial for managing the finances of any non-profit organization effectively. Some of the essential procedures to put in place include:

  • Segregation of duties: Assigning different people to different financial tasks reduces the risk of errors or fraud.
  • Budgeting: Setting and sticking to a financial plan ensures the organization’s funds are correctly used.
  • Reconciliation: Regularly comparing financial records and transactions reduces errors and discrepancies.
  • Financial Reporting: Keeping track of the organization’s finances and reporting on them is essential for transparency and accountability.
  • Audits: Yearly audits help to ensure the organization’s finances are in order.

Having these procedures in place helps a non-profit organization keep track of its finances and use its funds efficiently.

Record-keeping and Bookkeeping

Record-keeping and bookkeeping are critical components of adequate non-profit finance and accounting practices. Proper record-keeping can help organizations keep track of financial transactions, grants, and donations, while bookkeeping can help measure an organization’s financial health and support decision-making.

Here are a few tips for effective record-keeping and bookkeeping:

  1. Create a chart of accounts that reflects the organization’s activities and expenses.
  2. Keep accurate and up-to-date records of income and expenses.
  3. Separate restricted and unrestricted funds and track how they are used.
  4. Reconcile bank statements regularly to ensure accuracy.
  5. Use accounting software to simplify bookkeeping tasks.

By implementing good bookkeeping and record-keeping practices, non-profit organizations can ensure that their finances are managed effectively and transparently. In addition, it is crucial to building trust with donors and stakeholders.

Pro Tip: Consider hiring a professional bookkeeper or accountant to help manage your organization’s finances if you lack in-house resources or expertise.

Internal Controls

Internal controls are integral to non-profit organizations’ finance and accounting systems. These controls are policies and procedures to safeguard organizational assets, ensure accurate financial reporting, and prevent fraud and errors.

Effective internal controls include:

  • Separation of duties to prevent any one person from having too much control over financial transactions.
  • Documenting and verifying transactions through receipts, invoices, and other supporting documents.
  • Regularly monitoring financial transactions and reporting to detect errors or fraudulent activities.
  • Conducting regular audits to evaluate the effectiveness of the internal control system.

Internal controls provide non-profit organizations with a foundation for responsible financial management and accountability. By establishing and following these practices, non-profits can protect and preserve their financial resources, maintain stakeholders’ trust, and advance their mission.

Audit Procedures

Non-profit organizations must adhere to special financial standards and complete regular audits to ensure their operations are financially sound. These audit procedures aim to maintain accuracy and accountability while conducting financial operations.

Understanding the principles of audit procedures is essential for non-profit organizations to ensure they comply with applicable laws and regulations. This guide will explain the basics of audit procedures and the criteria non-profit organizations must meet.

Differentiate between Restricted and Unrestricted Funds

Donations to non-profit organizations can be broadly categorized into two types of funds – restricted and unrestricted funds. However, it is important to differentiate between the two as it affects how the funds can be utilized.

  • Restricted funds are donations from a non-profit organization with a specific purpose or condition. These funds can only be used for the specified purpose, not other organization expenses. Audit procedures must ensure that these funds are used only for the intended purpose and not diverted for other expenses.
  • In contrast, unrestricted funds are donations given to an organization without any specific conditions attached to them. These funds can be used for general operations, expenses, or long-term investments.

Therefore, understanding the difference between the two types of funds is crucial for the proper financial management and accounting of non-profit organizations.

Explain Financial Statements

Financial statements are essential tools that provide insight into a company’s financial health, allowing stakeholders to make informed decisions. Audit procedures are used to verify the accuracy of financial statements, ensuring they adhere to accounting principles.

Audit procedures may include examining bank statements, invoices, and contracts to ensure accurate numbers in financial statements. It may also involve interviews with employees and observation of physical assets to ensure they correspond with what is recorded in the financial statements.

In contrast, the Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide offers guidance on the unique financial challenges faced by non-profit organizations. These organizations use financial statements such as the Statement of Activities and Statement of Financial Position (Balance Sheet) to measure their financial health accurately.

By following these guidelines and using the correct financial statements and audit procedures, businesses and non-profits can ensure their financial information is reliable and can be used for decision-making.

Income Statements

An income statement of financial activities is critical in non-profit finance and accounting. It summarizes the organization’s revenues, expenses, and net income over a specific period.

Here’s how to read an income statement:

  1. Focus on the top line, which shows the total revenue generated by the organization over the specified period.
  2. Look at the bottom line, which shows the organization’s net income or loss over the same period.
  3. Scan the expenses section to understand where the organization is spending its money.
  4. Compare revenue and expense trends over time to identify areas of growth or decline.

By analyzing the income statement, non-profits can make informed decisions about their operations and financial health.

Balance Sheets

The balance sheet is a crucial financial statement for non-profit organizations, providing a snapshot of the organization’s financial position at a specific time.

The balance sheet consists of three main sections:

  1. Assets
  2. Liabilities
  3. Net assets

Assets are resources owned by the non-profit organization that has a monetary value. These include cash, investments, property, and equipment.

Liabilities are the organization’s debts or obligations that must be paid off in the future.

Net assets represent the difference between the total assets and liabilities, representing the organization’s financial position.

To maintain a healthy financial position, non-profit organizations must regularly review and analyze their balance sheets to ensure their assets exceed their liabilities.

Pro tip: Include a narrative or other descriptive information to help explain the financial statements to non-financial staff, board members, and other stakeholders.

Statement of Cash Flows

A statement of cash flows is an essential financial statement for non-profits that provides a clear picture of the organization’s liquidity and cash flow over a specific period. In addition, it helps the non-profit management to understand how the organization generates cash and how it spends that cash.

This statement is categorized into three sections:

  1. Cash flows from operating activities,
  2. Cash flows from investing activities, and
  3. Cash flows from financing activities.

The statement of cash flows in the non-profit financial management guide is designed to help non-profit organizations understand their finances better, identify cash flow issues, and create strategies to address them. A good statement of cash flows can help non-profits stay solvent, plan for the future, and make better financial decisions.

Managing Cash

Cash management is a critical aspect of any non-profit organization. Without proper cash management, you risk running out of funds and having to put important projects on hold. This guide will discuss how to create a successful cash management strategy, tips to control expenses effectively, and how to make the most out of limited resources.

Techniques to Manage Cash Flow

Cash flow forecasting is one of the most important techniques for managing cash flow. It involves estimating your organization’s future cash inflows and outflows for a specified period, usually three to six months. By forecasting your cash flow, you can identify potential cash shortages and surpluses and take necessary actions to manage them.

Here are some other techniques to manage cash flow:

  1. Delaying payments to vendors until the last possible moment
  2. Negotiating better payment terms with suppliers
  3. Offering discounts for early payments from customers
  4. Using credit cards for business expenses to extend the payment due date
  5. Implementing a cash reserve policy where a certain percentage of revenue is set aside for emergencies.

Pro tip: Regularly monitoring your cash flow and updating your forecast can help you stay on top of your organization’s financial health and make informed decisions to safeguard against any cash flow disruptions.

Setting Reserves

Setting reserves is a crucial aspect of financial planning for non-profits, as it helps organizations navigate unexpected challenges and ensure long-term financial sustainability.

Here’s how to set reserves:

  1. Determine the financial risks your organization may face, such as drops in funding or unexpected expenses.
  2. Identify the amount of money your organization would need to continue operating for a certain period, such as 3 to 6 months.
  3. Create a plan to save or allocate the necessary funds for reserves.
  4. Consider investing a portion of the reserves in low-risk yet high-yield investments.
  5. Revisit the reserve plan annually and adjust as needed to reflect changes in new risks, expenses, or funding levels.

Setting reserves ensures that a non-profit organization has a financial cushion to cover unforeseen expenses or disruptions while providing the necessary funding to continue serving its mission.

Cash Flow Statements

Cash flow statements are an essential element of non-profit finance and accounting. They help organizations understand their financial position, funding gaps, and cash reserves to make informed decisions.

The cash flow statement tracks the movement of money in and out of the organizations during a specific period, including:

  • Operating activities, such as expenses and revenues related to the day-to-day operation of the non-profit.
  • Investing activities, such as buying or selling assets or investments.
  • Financing activities, such as fundraising, loans, or repayment of debts.

Preparing regular cash flow statements is key to financial planning and budgeting. They highlight the trends and patterns of cash movements within the organization, facilitate predicting future income and expenses, and provide a basis for making strategic decisions to ensure long-term sustainability.

Pro tip: Regularly updating and analyzing your cash flow statements can help identify potential financial challenges and opportunities that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.


Forecasting is an essential part of financial management in a non-profit organization. It helps to provide insight into the organization’s future financial condition so that the finances of the organization can be managed more effectively. This guide will discuss the various aspects of forecasting non-profit financials and how they can help manage the organization’s finances more effectively.

Strategies to Increase Cash

Forecasting is one of the most effective strategies to increase cash flow for non-profit organizations. By accurately predicting their future expenses and revenues, non-profits can make informed decisions about budgeting and spending, which can ultimately help them save money and increase their financial stability.

Here are some tips for effective forecasting:

  1. Use historical data to identify trends and patterns in your organization’s finances.
  2. Consider any expected changes in revenues or expenses, such as grants or fundraising events.
  3. Make conservative projections by assuming that revenues will be lower than expected and expenses will be higher.
  4. Use forecasting tools like spreadsheets or accounting software to organize and analyze your data.
  5. Monitor your performance against your projections regularly and adjust your forecasts as needed.

Effective forecasting can help non-profit organizations stay financially healthy, allowing them to serve their communities and achieve their goals.


Fundraising is a vital component of any non-profit organization’s financial strategy, and a well-executed fundraising plan can help to sustain and grow your non-profit’s mission and programs.

To create an effective fundraising plan, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Define your fundraising goals and objectives, including how much money you need to raise and how it will be used.
  2. Develop a comprehensive timeline for your fundraising activities, including marketing and outreach.
  3. Identify your target audience, including current and potential donors, sponsors, and partners.
  4. Create a compelling case for support that clearly articulates your non-profit’s mission and the impact of your programs.
  5. Make sure to measure and track your progress towards your fundraising goals, and adjust your plan as needed.
  6. Remember to thank your donors, show your appreciation for their support, and keep them informed of the impact of their contributions.


Grants are a crucial source of funding for non-profit organizations, enabling them to carry out their mission and implement programs that benefit their communities.

Here are some important things to know about non-profit grants:

  • Grants are funds that non-profit organizations receive from foundations, corporations, government agencies, or individuals for a specific purpose.
  • Grant applications require detailed information about the organization, the proposed project or program, the budget, and the expected outcomes.
  • Grants are highly competitive, and organizations must identify grant opportunities and craft quality grant proposals strategically.
  • Grant funding is often restricted to specific uses, and organizations must report on their progress and outcomes regularly.

Pro tip: To maximize their chances of receiving grants, non-profits should develop relationships with potential funders, articulate their impact in clear and measurable ways, and maintain accurate records of their finances and program activities.

Planned Giving

Planned giving is donating to a non-profit organization through estate planning or another long-term financial strategy. It involves carefully considering and preparing options that may have tax benefits or enable donors to make more significant gifts than they may have been able to during their lifetime.

Here are a few types of planned giving:

  • Bequests: Gifts that are designated in a donor’s will or living trust
  • Gifts of Stock: Donating stocks or other appreciated assets.
  • Charitable Remainder Trusts: A donor can place cash or assets into a trust, which provides a stream of income to the donor or named beneficiaries for a certain period.
  • Charitable Gift Annuities: Donors transfer cash or property to a non-profit organization in exchange for a guaranteed annual income for life.

Planned giving is essential for non-profit organizations that rely on donations for support and services. It enables donors to leave a legacy while ensuring the organization’s sustainability.

Reporting and Compliance

Reporting and compliance are two of the most important aspects of financial management for any non-profit organization. Reporting is necessary to provide fiscal transparency, maintain accountability, and keep stakeholders informed about the organization’s financial activity. In addition, compliance is a must to comply with applicable laws, regulations, and grant requirements.

This section will discuss the various reporting and compliance requirements for non-profits.

Taxation Related to Non-profit Organizations

Non-profit organizations are generally exempt from paying taxes. However, there are still several taxation-related matters that non-profits must comply with to maintain their tax-exempt status.

Here are some important taxation-related considerations for non-profits:

  1. Non-profits must file annual tax returns with the IRS, even if they are exempt from paying taxes.
  2. Donations to non-profit organizations are generally tax-deductible, which means that non-profits must provide donors with a receipt that includes the organization’s tax identification number, the date of the donation, and the amount donated.
  3. Non-profits may qualify for sales tax exemptions on certain purchases, depending on state and local laws.
  4. Non-profits may be subject to unrelated business income tax if they generate income from activities unrelated to their charitable mission.
  5. Non-profits must adhere to strict reporting and compliance requirements set forth by the IRS and other regulatory bodies.

By maintaining proper reporting and compliance standards, non-profit organizations can ensure that they remain in good standing with the IRS and continue to receive tax-exempt status.

General Accounting Principles

General accounting principles are the fundamental concepts, guidelines, and rules businesses and organizations follow to maintain accurate financial records and prepare financial statements. These principles ensure that financial information is consistent, reliable, and comparable across different organizations or periods. In addition, they provide a framework for accountants to record, classify, and summarize financial transactions meaningfully.

Some of the widely accepted accounting principles include:

  • The consistency principle states that once an accounting method is chosen, it should be used consistently throughout the accounting period.
  • The matching principle dictates that expenses should be recognized in the same period as the revenue they helped generate.
  • The revenue recognition principle requires that revenue be recognized when earned, regardless of when payment is received.
  • Finally, the cost principle states that assets should be recorded at their original cost.

Following these principles ensures that accounting reports are accurate, comply with industry standards, and provide valuable insights into the financial health of non-profit organizations.

Pro Tip: Non-profit organizations should consult with accounting professionals to ensure their financial records adhere to general accounting principles and comply with all relevant reporting and compliance regulations.

Accrual Accounting

Accrual accounting is a method of financial reporting that records transactions when they occur rather than when the cash is received or paid out, making it essential for non-profit organizations to have accurate financial reporting. Under this system, revenues are recognized when earned, regardless of whether the money has been received. At the same time, expenses are recognized when they are incurred, whether or not they have been paid.

Accurate financial statements allow non-profit organizations better to understand their financial position, income, and expenses, giving them a clear picture of their financial health, which helps make informed decisions about budgets, funding, creditworthiness, etc.

Accrual accounting provides a more accurate and reliable financial reporting method, enabling non-profits to understand their financial position better and make sound resource allocation decisions.

Cost Accounting

Cost accounting is a valuable tool for non-profits to understand and manage their financial resources. It provides financial insights into what the organization is spending money on and how it is used. Cost accounting helps uncover areas that are inefficient, or that need improvement. Additionally, it can help identify areas where money can be saved by streamlining processes, cutting costs, and better-utilizing resources.

Let’s explore cost accounting and its various applications in the non-profit sector.

Public Disclosure and Compliance with Government Regulations

Public disclosure and compliance with government regulations are crucial for ensuring transparency and accountability in cost accounting for non-profit organizations.

Non-profit organizations must comply with various financial and accounting regulations the government sets. In addition, since they operate on donated funds, they must provide detailed disclosures in financial reports to maintain transparency in their cost accounting practices.

To comply with the regulations, non-profit organizations must:

  • Have a system in place to track and report all financial transactions accurately
  • Provide accurate and complete financial statements and disclosures
  • Adhere to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
  • File annual tax returns and financial statements with the government

By following these regulations and making public disclosures, non-profit organizations can gain the trust of their donors and stakeholders, ensuring continuous funding and support for their cause.

Pro Tip: Non-profit organizations can use accounting software to automate their financial reporting and ensure compliance with government regulations.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide?

The Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide is a comprehensive resource that provides information and guidance on financial management and accounting principles for non-profit organizations.

2. Who should use the Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide?

The guide is designed for non-profit executives, program staff, board members, and volunteers who want better to understand financial management and accounting practices for non-profits.

3. What topics are covered in the Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide?

The guide covers various topics, including budgeting, financial reporting, internal controls, audits, tax compliance, and fundraising best practices.

4. Is the Non-profit Finance and Accounting guide applicable to all non-profits?

Yes, the guide applies to all types and sizes of non-profits, including charitable organizations, educational institutions, healthcare providers, and religious institutions.

5. Is the Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide available in different formats?

The guide is available in print and electronic formats, including PDF, e-book, and online resources.

6. How can I obtain a copy of the Non-profit Finance and Accounting Guide?

You can purchase a copy of the guide from various online retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.

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