Category Archives: Accounting

How to convince donors to remove “restricted” from their gifts

Restricted gifts — or donations with conditions attached — can be difficult for not-for-profits to manage. Unlike unrestricted gifts, these donations can’t be poured into your general operating fund and be used where they’re most needed. Instead, restricted gifts generally are designated to fund a specific program or initiative, such as a building or scholarship fund.

It’s not only unethical, but dangerous, not to comply with a donor’s restrictions. If donors learn you’ve ignored their wishes, they can demand the money back and sue your organization. And your reputation will almost certainly take a hit. Rather than take that risk, try to encourage your donors to give with no strings attached.

Personal touch

Some donors simply don’t realize how restricted gifts can prevent their favorite charity from achieving its objectives. So when speaking with potential donors about their giving plans, praise the benefits of unrestricted gifts. Explain how donations are used at your organization, offering hard numbers and examples where needed. Be as upfront as possible and give them as much information as you can about your organization.

To make unrestricted giving as easy as possible, give donors (and their advisors) sample bequest clauses that refer to the general mission and purpose of your organization. Also encourage them to include wording that shows “suggestions” or “preferences” for their donations, as opposed to binding restrictions. Prepare documents that give wording samples for these cases.

Words of intent

Unless you’re holding a fundraiser to benefit a specific program, include general giving statements in your fundraising materials. For example, you might say: “All gifts will be used to further the organization’s general charitable purposes,” or “Your donations to this year’s fundraiser will be used toward the continued goal of fulfilling our organization’s mission.”

Reinforce this message in your donor thank-you letters. They should state your nonprofit’s understanding of how the gift is intended to be used. For example, if a donor stipulated no restrictions, explain that the money will be used for general operating purposes.

Gentle persuasion

Obviously, you’ll need to be respectful if a donor is determined to attach strings to a gift. (Before accepting it, just make certain you’ll be able to carry out the donor’s wishes.) But if you can persuade contributors that their gifts will be used in a responsible and mission-enhancing way, many are likely to remove restrictions.

Contact us for more information on using restricted and unrestricted funds.

© 2019

Financial statements tell your business’s story, inside and out

Ask many entrepreneurs and small business owners to show you their financial statements and they’ll likely open a laptop and show you their bookkeeping software. Although tracking financial transactions is critical, spreadsheets aren’t financial statements.

In short, financial statements are detailed and carefully organized reports about the financial activities and overall position of a business. As any company evolves, it will likely encounter an increasing need to properly generate these reports to build credibility with outside parties, such as investors and lenders, and to make well-informed strategic decisions.

These are the typical components of financial statements:

Income statement. Also known as a profit and loss statement, the income statement shows revenues and expenses for a specified period. To help show which parts of the business are profitable (or not), it should carefully match revenues and expenses.

Balance sheet. This provides a snapshot of a company’s assets and liabilities. Assets are items of value, such as cash, accounts receivable, equipment and intellectual property. Liabilities are debts, such as accounts payable, payroll and lines of credit. The balance sheet also states the company’s net worth, which is calculated by subtracting total liabilities from total assets.

Cash flow statement. This shows how much cash a company generates for a particular period, which is a good indicator of how easily it can pay its bills. The statement details the net increase or decrease in cash as a result of operations, investment activities (such as property or equipment sales or purchases) and financing activities (such as taking out or repaying a loan).

Retained earnings/equity statement. Not always included, this statement shows how much a company’s net worth grew during a specified period. If the business is a corporation, the statement details what percentage of profits for that period the company distributed as dividends to its shareholders and what percentage it retained internally.

Notes to financial statements. Many if not most financial statements contain a supplementary report to provide additional details about the other sections. Some of these notes may take the form of disclosures that are required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles — the most widely used set of accounting rules and standards. Others might include supporting calculations or written clarifications.

Financial statements tell the ongoing narrative of your company’s finances and profitability. Without them, you really can’t tell anyone — including yourself — precisely how well you’re doing. We can help you generate these reports to the highest standards and then use them to your best advantage.

© 2019

5 questions can help nonprofits avoid accounting and tax mistakes

To err is human, but some errors are more consequential — and harder to fix — than others. Most not-for-profit organizations can’t afford to lose precious financial resources, so you need to do whatever possible to minimize accounting and tax mistakes. Get started by considering the following five questions:

  1. Have we formally documented our accounting processes? All aspects of managing your nonprofit’s money should be reflected in a detailed, written accounting manual. This should include how to accept and deposit donations and pay bills.
  2. How much do we rely on our accounting software? These days, accounting software is essential to most nonprofits’ daily functioning. But even with the assistance of technology, mistakes happen. Your staff should always double-check entries and reconcile bank accounts to ensure that transactions entered into accounting software are complete and accurate.
  3. Do we consistently report unrelated business income (UBI)? IRS officials have cited “failing to consider obvious and subtle” UBI tax issues as the biggest tax mistake nonprofits make. Many organizations commonly fail to report UBI — or they underreport this income. Be sure to follow guidance in IRS Publication 598, Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations. And if you need more help, consult a tax expert with nonprofit expertise.
  4. Have we correctly classified our workers? This is another area where nonprofits commonly make errors in judgment and practice. You’re required to withhold and pay various payroll taxes on employee earnings, but don’t have the same obligation for independent contractors. If the IRS can successfully argue that one or more of your independent contractors meet the criteria for being classified as employees, both you and the contractor possibly face financial consequences.
  5. Do we back up data? If you don’t regularly back up accounting and tax information, it may not be safe in the event of a fire, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency. This data should be backed up automatically and frequently using cloud-based or other offsite storage solutions.

 

If your accounting and tax policies and processes aren’t quite up to snuff and potentially put your organization at risk of making serious errors, don’t despair. We can help you address these shortcomings. Contact Langdon & Company today!

© 2019

Charitable donations: Unraveling the mystery of motivation

Traditionally, Americans have supported charities not only for tax breaks and a vague sense of “giving back,” but also for a variety of other financial, emotional and social reasons. Understanding what motivates donors and how their motivations vary across demographic groups can help your not-for-profit more effectively reach and engage potential supporters.

Money matters

Asset protection and capital preservation traditionally have motivated many wealthy individuals to make charitable donations. And certain strategies — such as gifting appreciated stock or real estate to get “more bang for the buck” — may be particularly appealing to donors who make charitable giving a piece of their larger financial plans.

But high-income donors sometimes have less-obvious financial motivations, such as a wish to limit the amount their children inherit to prevent a “burden of wealth.” Warren Buffett, for example, plans to leave the vast majority of his wealth to charity rather than to his children. As he told Fortune, wealthy parents should leave their children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” To appeal to these kinds of donors, you may want to offer to work with the entire family so that they can begin a multigenerational tradition of giving.

Social considerations

Research by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has found that younger donors — those between 20 and 45 — as well as wealthier and better-educated individuals are more likely to want to “make a difference” with their gifts. Those with lower incomes and a high school degree or less often donate to meet basic needs in their communities or to “help the poor help themselves.”

Donors of all stripes are motivated by the perceived social effects of giving. Research published in American Economic Review reported that donors typically gave more when their gifts were announced publicly.

Similarly, numerous studies have found that people are more likely to give — and to give in greater amounts — if asked personally, particularly if they know the person making the appeal. These donors may want to make an altruistic impression, and some may seek the prestige of being connected with a well-established and admired nonprofit “brand.” Such individuals are more likely to buy pricey tickets to annual galas or join a nonprofit’s board to meet and socialize with others in their socioeconomic group or business community.

Get — and keep — their attention

There are probably as many motivations as there are donors, and most people have more than one reason to support a particular charity. To get — and keep — donors’ attention, perform some basic market research to learn who they are.

© 2019

Financial best practices for religious congregations

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious congregations aren’t required to file tax returns, so they might not regularly hire independent accountants. But regardless of size, religious organizations often are subject to other requirements, such as paying unrelated business income tax (UBIT) and properly classifying employees.

Without the oversight of tax authorities or outside accountants, religious leaders may not be aware of all requirements to which they’re subject. This can leave their organizations vulnerable to fraud and its trustees and employees subject to liabilities.

Common vulnerabilities

To effectively prevent financial and other critical mistakes, make sure your religious congregation complies with IRS rules and federal and state laws. In particular, pay attention to:

Employee classification. Determine which workers in your organization are full-time employees and which are independent contractors. Depending on many factors, such as the amount of control your organization has over them, their responsibilities, and their form of compensation, individuals you consider independent contractors may need to be reclassified as employees.

Clergy wages. Most clergy should be treated as employees and receive W-2 forms. Typically, they’re exempt from Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes and federal withholding but are subject to self-employment tax on wages. A parsonage (or rental) allowance can reduce income tax, but not self-employment tax.

UBIT. If your organization regularly engages in any type of business activity that’s unrelated to its religious mission, be aware of certain tax and reporting rules. Income from such activities could be subject to UBIT.

Lobbying. Your organization shouldn’t devote a substantial part of its activities in attempting to influence legislation. Otherwise you might risk your tax-exempt status and face potential penalties.

Trust and protect

Faith groups can be particularly vulnerable to fraud because they generally foster an environment of trust. Also, their leaders may be reluctant to punish offenders. Just keep in mind that even the most devout and long-standing members of your congregation are capable of embezzlement when faced with extreme circumstances.

To ensure employees and volunteers can’t help themselves to collections, require that at least two people handle all contributions. They should count cash in a secure area and verify the contents of offering envelopes. Next, they should document their collection activity in a signed report. For greater security, encourage your members to make electronic payments on your website or sign up for automatic bank account deductions.

Seek expertise

Although your congregation is subject to less IRS scrutiny than even your fellow nonprofit organizations, that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore financial best practices. Contact us for help.

3 under-the-radar aspects of payroll recordkeeping

The phrase “payroll recordkeeping” may conjure images of paystubs and W-4s. But there are other aspects that often fly under the radar and lead to administrative slip-ups. Here are three examples.

1. Fringe benefit records

The tax code provides an explicit recordkeeping requirement for employers with enumerated fringe benefit plans, such as:

  • Health insurance,
  • Cafeteria plans,
  • Educational assistance,
  • Adoption assistance, and
  • Dependent care assistance.

You’re required to keep whatever records are needed to determine whether the plan meets the requirements for excluding the benefit amounts from employees’ taxable income.

Tax code provisions regarding fringe benefit records don’t specify how long records pertaining to fringe benefits should be kept. Presumably, they’re subject to the four-year rule that’s widely applicable to payroll recordkeeping. Thus, you should retain them for at least four years after the due date of any federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes for the return period to which the records relate or the date such tax is paid, whichever is later.

Caution: To the extent that any fringe benefit records must also comply with ERISA Title I, a longer retention period of six years applies.

2. Unemployment tax records

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) requires employers to retain records relating to compensation earned and unemployment contributions made. Such records must be retained for four years after the due date of the Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Tax Return,” or the date the required FUTA tax was paid, whichever is later.

In addition, be sure to retain records substantiating:

  • The total amount of employee compensation paid during the calendar year,
  • The amount of compensation subject to FUTA tax,
  • State unemployment contributions made, with separate totals for amounts paid by the employer and amounts withheld from employees’ wages,
  • All information shown on Form 940 (with Schedule A and/or R as applicable), and
  • If applicable, the reason why total compensation and the taxable amounts are different.

Remember, record retention requirements are also set by the federal Department of Labor and state wage-hour and unemployment insurance agencies.

3. IRS informational returns

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires certain employers to file informational returns with the IRS — namely, Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C.

The B Forms are filed by minimum essential coverage providers (some self-insuring employers) to report coverage information. Meanwhile, the C Forms are filed by applicable large employers to provide information that the IRS needs to administer employer shared responsibility under the ACA, as well as receipt of premium tax credits. (Forms 1095-B and 1095-C are also furnished to individuals.) Retain these forms for at least three years from the reporting due date.

Also retain information returns and employer statements to employees on tip allocations for at least three years after the due date of the return or statement to which they relate.

Complex task

Paying employees is a complex task on its own; naturally, the recordkeeping involved can be challenging as well. Our firm can offer further assistance.

© 2018

Estimates vs. actuals: Was your 2018 budget reasonable?

As the year winds down, business owners can be thankful for the gift of perspective (among other things, we hope). Assuming you created a budget for the calendar year, you should now be able to accurately assess that budget by comparing its estimates to actual results. Your objective is to determine whether your budget was reasonable, and, if not, how to adjust it to be more accurate for 2019.

Identify notable changes

Your estimates, like those of many companies, probably start with historical financial statements. From there, you may simply apply an expected growth rate to annual revenues and let it flow through the remaining income statement and balance sheet items. For some businesses, this simplified approach works well. But future performance can’t always be expected to mirror historical results.

For example, suppose you renegotiated a contract with a major supplier during the year. The new contract may have affected direct costs and profit margins. So, what was reasonable at the beginning of the year may be less so now and require adjustments when you draft your 2019 budget.

Often, a business can’t maintain its current growth rate indefinitely without investing in additional assets or incurring further fixed costs. As you compare your 2018 estimates to actuals, and look at 2019, consider whether your company is planning to:

• Build a new plant,

• Buy a major piece of equipment,

• Hire more workers, or

• Rent additional space.

External and internal factors — such as regulatory changes, product obsolescence, and in-process research and development — also may require specialized adjustments to your 2019 budget to keep it reasonable.

Find the best way to track

The most analytical way to gauge reasonableness is to generate year-end financials and then compare the results to what was previously budgeted. Are you on track to meet those estimates? If not, identify the causes and factor them into a revised budget for next year.

If you discover that your actuals are significantly different from your estimates — and if this takes you by surprise — you should consider producing interim financials next year. Some businesses feel overwhelmed trying to prepare a complete set of financials every month. So, you might opt for short-term cash reports, which highlight the sources and uses of cash during the period. These cash forecasts can serve as an early warning system for “budget killers,” such as unexpected increases in direct costs or delinquent accounts.

Alternatively, many companies create 12-month rolling budgets — which typically mirror historical financial statements — and update them monthly to reflect the latest market conditions.

Do it all

The budgeting process is rarely easy, but it’s incredibly important. And that process doesn’t end when you create the budget; checking it regularly and performing a year-end assessment are key. We can help you not only generate a workable budget, but also identify the best ways to monitor

Taking the hybrid approach to cloud computing

For several years now, cloud computing has been touted as the perfect way for companies large and small to meet their software and data storage needs. But, when it comes to choosing and deploying a solution, one size doesn’t fit all.

Many businesses have found it difficult to fully commit to the cloud for a variety of reasons — including complexity of choices and security concerns. If your company has struggled to make a decision in this area, a hybrid cloud might provide the answer.

Public vs. private

The “cloud” in cloud computing is generally categorized as public or private. A public cloud — such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure — is shared by many users. Private clouds, meanwhile, are created for and restricted to one business or individual.

Not surprisingly, public clouds generally are considered less secure than private ones. Public clouds also require Internet access to use whatever is stored on them. A private cloud may be accessible via a company’s local network.

Potential advantages

Hybrid computing, as the name suggests, combines public and private clouds. The clouds remain separate and distinct, but data and applications can be shared between them. This approach offers several potential advantages, including:

Scalability. For less sensitive data, public clouds give businesses access to enormous storage capabilities. As your needs expand or shrink — whether temporarily or for the long term — you can easily adjust the size of a public cloud without incurring significant costs for additional on-site or remote private servers.

Security. When it comes to more sensitive data, you can use a private cloud to avoid the vulnerabilities associated with publicly available options. For even greater security, procure multiple private clouds — this way, if one is breached, your company won’t lose access or suffer damage to all of its data.

Accessibility. Public clouds generally are easier for remote workers to access than private clouds. So, your business could use these for productivity-related apps while confidential data is stored on a private cloud.

Risks and costs

Using a blended computer infrastructure like this isn’t without risks and costs. For example, it requires more sophisticated technological expertise to manage and support compared to a straight public cloud approach. You’ll likely have to invest more dollars in procuring multiple public and private cloud solutions, as well as in the IT talent to maintain and support the infrastructure.

Overall, though, many businesses that have been reluctant to solely rely on either a public or private cloud may find that hybrid cloud computing brings the best of both worlds. Our firm can help you assess the financial considerations involved.

© 2018

Make your nonprofit’s accounting function more efficient

How efficient is your not-for-profit? Even tightly run organizations can use some improvement — particularly in the accounting area. Adopting the following six tips can help improve timeliness and accuracy.

 

  1. Set cutoff policies. Create policies for the monthly cutoff of invoicing and recording expenses — and adhere to them. For example, require all invoices to be submitted to the accounting department by the end of each month. Too many adjustments — or waiting for different employees or departments to turn in invoices and expense reports — waste time and can delay the production of financial statements.
  2. Reconcile accounts monthly. You may be able to save considerable time at the end of the year by reconciling your bank accounts shortly after the end of each month. It’s easier to correct errors when you catch them early. Also reconcile accounts payable and accounts receivable data to your statements of financial position.
  3. Batch items to process. Don’t enter only one invoice or cut only one check at a time. Set aside a block of time to do the job when you have multiple items to process. Some organizations process payments only once or twice a month. If you make your schedule available to everyone, fewer “emergency” checks and deposits will surface.
  4. Insist on oversight. Make sure that the individual or group that’s responsible for financial oversight (for example, your CFO, treasurer or finance committee) reviews monthly bank statements, financial statements and accounting entries for obvious errors or unexpected amounts. The value of such reviews increases when they’re performed right after each monthly reporting period ends.
  5. Exploit your software’s potential. Many organizations under use the accounting software package they’ve purchased because they haven’t learned its full functionality. If needed, hire a trainer to review the software’s basic functions with staff and teach time-saving shortcuts.
  6. Review your processes. Accounting systems can become inefficient over time if they aren’t monitored. Look for labor-intensive steps that could be automated or steps that don’t add value and could be eliminated. Often, for example, steps are duplicated by two different employees or the process is slowed down by “handing off” part of a project.

 

Contact us. We can help review your accounting function for ways to improve efficiency.

© 2018

The fine art of valuing donated property


Not-for-profits often struggle with valuing noncash and in-kind donations. Whether for record-keeping purposes or when helping donors understand proper valuation for their charitable tax deductions, the task isn’t easy. Although the amount that a donor can deduct generally is based on the donation’s fair market value (FMV), there’s no single formula for calculating it.

FMV basics

FMV is often defined as the price that property would sell for on the open market. For example, if a donor contributes used clothes, the FMV would be the price that typical buyers pay for clothes of the same age, condition, style and use. If the property is subject to any type of restriction on use, the FMV must reflect it. So, if a donor stipulates that a painting must be displayed, not sold, that restriction affects its value.

According to the IRS, there are three particularly relevant FMV factors:

  1. Cost or selling price. This is the cost of the item to the donor or the actual selling price received by your organization. However, note that, because market conditions can change, the cost or price becomes less important the further in time the purchase or sale was from the contribution date.
  2. Comparable sales. The sales price of a property similar to the donated property can determine FMV. The weight that the IRS gives to a comparable sale depends on the:
    • Degree of similarity between the property sold and the donated property,
    • Time of the sale,
    • Circumstances of the sale (was it at arm’s length?), and
    • Market conditions.
  3. Replacement cost. FMV should consider the cost of buying or creating property similar to the donated item, but the replacement cost must have a reasonable relationship with the FMV.

 

Businesses that contribute inventory can generally deduct the smaller of its FMV on the day of the contribution or the inventory’s basis. The basis is any cost incurred for the inventory in an earlier year that the business would otherwise include in its opening inventory for the year of the contribution. If the cost of donated inventory isn’t included in the opening inventory, its basis is zero and the business can’t claim a deduction.

Important reminder

Even if a donor can’t deduct a noncash or in-kind donation (for example, a piece of tangible property or property rights), you may need to record the donation on your financial statements. Recognize such donations at their fair value, or what it would cost if your organization were to buy the donation outright. Contact us for more information.

© 2018