Category Archives: Nonprofit Organizations

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.

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

Volunteers are assets nonprofits must protect

How much are your volunteers worth? The not-for-profit advocacy group Independent Sector estimates the value of the average American volunteer at $24.69 an hour. Volunteers who perform specialized services may be even more valuable.

Whether your entire workforce is unpaid or you rely on a few volunteers to support a paid staff, you need to safeguard these assets. Here’s how.

1. Create a professional program

“Professionalizing” your volunteer program can give participants a sense of ownership and “job” satisfaction. New recruits should receive a formal orientation and participate in training sessions. Even if they’ll be contributing only a couple of hours a week or month, ask them to commit to at least a loose schedule. And as with paid staffers, volunteers should set annual performance goals. For example, a volunteer might decide to work a total of 100 hours annually or learn enough about your mission to be able to speak publicly on the subject.

If volunteers accomplish their goals, publicize the fact. And consider “promoting” those who’ve proved they’re capable of assuming greater responsibility. For example, award the job of volunteer coordinator to someone who has exhibited strong communication and organization skills.

2. Keep them engaged

A formal program won’t keep volunteers engaged if it doesn’t take advantage of their talents. What’s more, most volunteers want to know that the work they do matters. So even if they must occasionally perform menial tasks such as cleaning out animal shelter cages, you can help them understand how every activity contributes to your charity’s success.

During the training process, inventory each volunteer’s experience, education, skills and interests and ask if there’s a particular project that attracts them. Don’t just assume that they want to use the skills they already have. Many people volunteer to learn something new.

3. Make it fun

Most volunteers understand that you’ll put them to work. At the same time, they expect to enjoy coming in. So be careful not to make the same demands on volunteers that you would on employees. Also, try to be flexible when it comes to such issues as scheduling.

Because many volunteers are motivated by the opportunity to meet like-minded people, facilitate friendships. Newbies should be introduced to other volunteers and assigned to work alongside someone who knows the ropes. Also schedule on- and off-site social activities for volunteers.

4. Remember to say “thank you”

No volunteer program can be successful without frequent and effusive “thank-yous.” Verbal appreciation will do, but consider holding a volunteer thank-you event.

© 2018

How to boost the potential of your nonprofit’s special event

Not-for-profits use special events to raise large amounts in a short period of time. Most often, the donor receives a direct benefit from the event — such as dinner or participation in a gaming activity. But special events don’t always meet their fundraising goals. In fact, organizations can lose money on them. Following these steps can help boost your event’s potential and enable you to decide whether to hold it again in the future.

Step 1: Make a budget

Planning and holding a successful event is a process that should start with a budget. Estimate what you anticipate revenue to be. If costs are likely to be greater than revenue, consider forgoing the event. Of course, you can also come up with a less costly event or look for sponsors to help defray expenses.

Step 2: Develop a marketing plan

Determine the target audience for your event and the best way to reach that audience. For example, bingo nights are often popular with seniors. And they may be more likely to read about the event in the local newspaper than on your nonprofit’s blog.

Step 3: Account for everything

Track all of your event’s costs to arrive at an accurate net profit amount. For example, a gala’s costs could include:

• Amounts paid to market the event, such as printed invitations and paid advertisements,
• Amounts paid related to the direct benefit that the participant receives, such as food, drinks and giveaways, and
• Other actual event costs, such as rental space and wait staff.

Step 4: Evaluate the event

After the event, review a detailed statement of its revenue and expenses, and compare them to what was budgeted. Take a look at ticket sales: Did you bring in the amount you had anticipated? Was the attendance worth the amount of planning and organizing that went into the event? Next, evaluate money raised at the event itself. How much did your silent auction or raffle raise? Did you make more than the fair market value of the items donated?

Also review unexpected expenses. Were these “one-time” or “special” costs that aren’t likely to occur yearly, or are they recurring? The answers to these questions can help you determine if the event was a true success.

Crunching the numbers

Consider these results — along with changes in your organization and evolving economic conditions that could affect profitability — when determining whether your event is likely to be successful in the future. If you’re unsure, contact us. We can help you crunch the numbers.

© 2018

Nonprofits should be prepared for sudden outpouring of support

Americans gave unprecedented sums to charity in response to the devastating hurricanes last year. Large organizations, such as the American Red Cross, were equipped to handle the huge influxes of donations. However, some smaller charities were overwhelmed. Although it may seem like an unlikely problem, your not-for-profit needs a plan to handle a potential outpouring of support.

Know what’s normal

Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn from recent disasters is to always have an expansion plan in place. When the influx of online giving reached critical mass, many organizations found that their websites overloaded and went offline. Their sites had to be moved to more powerful servers to handle the increased traffic.

Keep track of “normal” website hits, as well as the numbers of calls and email inquiries received, so you won’t be caught off guard when you start to surpass that amount. Also, know your systems’ ultimate capacity so you can enact a contingency plan should you approach critical mass.

Mobilize your troops

Having an “early warning system” is only one part of being prepared. You also need to be able to mobilize your troops in a hurry. Do you know how to reach all of your board members at any time? Can you efficiently organize volunteers when you need extra hands quickly? Be sure you have:

• An up-to-date contact list of board members that includes home, office and mobile phone numbers,
• A process, such as a phone tree, so you can communicate with the board quickly and efficiently, and
• One or more emergency volunteer coordinators who can call and quickly train people when you need them.

Also conduct a mock emergency with staff and volunteers to learn where you’re prepared to ramp up and where you’re not.

Build relationships

A surge in donor interest may mean a surge in media attention. While it might be tempting to say, “not now, we’re busy,” don’t pass up the opportunity to publicize your organization’s mission and the work that’s garnering all the attention.

In most cases, the immediate surge of interest eventually wanes. Before that happens, start to build lasting relationships with new donors and media contacts. Inform them about the work your organization does under “normal” circumstances and suggest ways to get them involved.

© 2018

3 ideas for recruiting nonprofit volunteers

Most charitable not-for-profits have a never-ending need for volunteers. But finding new ones can be time-consuming — and volunteer searches aren’t always successful. Here are three recruitment ideas that can help.

1. Look nearby

Is your nonprofit familiar to businesses, residents and schools in the surrounding community? People often are drawn to volunteer because they learn of a worthwhile organization that’s located close to where they live or work.

Start to get to know your neighbors by performing an inventory of the surrounding area. Perhaps there’s a large apartment building you’ve never paid much attention to. Consider the people who live there to be potential volunteers. Likewise, if there’s an office building nearby, learn about the businesses that occupy it. Their employees might have skills, such as website design or bookkeeping experience, that perfectly match your volunteer opportunities.

Once you’ve identified some good outreach targets, mail or hand-deliver literature introducing your nonprofit as a neighbor and describing your needs. Consider inviting your neighbors to a celebration or informational open house at your offices.

2. Fine-tune your pitch

By making your pitches as informative and compelling as possible, you’re more likely to inspire potential volunteers to action. Specifically, explain the:

• Types of volunteer jobs currently available
• Skills most in demand
• Times when volunteers are needed
• Rewards and challenges your volunteers might experience

When possible, incorporate photographs of volunteers at work — along with their testimonials. And make it easy for people to take the next step by including your contact information or directing them to your website for an application.

3. Reach out to your network 

Develop a system for keeping those closest to your organization — major donors, board members and active volunteers — informed of your volunteer needs. These individuals often are influential in their communities, so a request from them is more likely to get people’s attention. They may even frame a request for assistance in the form of a challenge, with the solicitor being the first to volunteer their time or funds, of course.

Remain in pursuit

No matter how precise or thorough your initial recruiting efforts, remember that one-time or sporadic efforts are insufficient to attract a steady supply of volunteers. To get the resources you need, make volunteer recruitment a continuous process that draws on several strategies.

© 2018

10 best practices of a nonprofit/donor relationship

The Donor Bill of Rights was designed about 25 years ago as a blueprint of best practices for not-for-profits. Some critics have since asserted that the rights are out of date or not comprehensive enough. However, revisiting the list’s basic principles can help you build solid relationships with donors — and even boost fundraising.

10 rights

Here are the rights and what they might mean for your nonprofit:

1. To be informed of the organization’s mission, how it intends to use donated resources and its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes. This information is the bedrock of your outreach efforts and should be clear to your board, staff and anyone reading your organization’s materials.

2. To be informed of who’s serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities. You must be transparent about who serves on your board, their responsibilities and the decisions they’re making.

3. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements. Make your nonprofit’s financial data easily accessible to constituents, potential donors and charitable watchdog groups.

4. To be assured gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given. Donors expect that you’ll minimize administrative expenses so their funds are available for programming and that you’ll honor any restrictions they’ve placed on gifts.

5. To receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition. In addition to thanking donors, provide them with the substantiation required for a federal tax deduction and information about the charitable deduction rules and limits.

6. To be assured that donation information is handled with respect and confidentiality to the extent provided by law. Post your organization’s privacy policy on your website and be clear about what information you’re gathering about donors and how that information will be used.

7. To expect that relationships between individuals representing organizations and donors will be professional. Staff and board members should be trained in proper donor interaction — both off- and online.

8. To be informed whether fundraisers are volunteers, employees of the organization or hired solicitors. Again, transparency about your operations is critical.

9. To have the opportunity for donors’ names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share. Donors, not your nonprofit, get to decide whether their information can be shared. Make it easy for donors to opt out of email and other lists.

10. To feel free to ask questions and receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers. Open dialogue between your nonprofit and your donors fosters respect and deepens relationships.

Contact us for help implementing these 10 tenets or developing a customized donor bill of rights.

© 2018

Charitable Solicitation License Refresher

By Rebecca Lunn

In the nonprofit arena, charitable solicitation licenses are a necessity for certain fundraising efforts. If you are an organization or individual that asks the public for contributions or donations to support a charitable purpose, a charitable solicitation license (“CSL”) is needed, unless specifically exempt by law. As many states have laws regulating the solicitation of funds for charitable purposes, it is important to check the requirements for each state your organization operates in to ensure compliance.

For organizations based in North Carolina whom are currently registered with the NC Secretary of State (SoS) Charities Bureau, keep in mind the following renewal requirements:

·       The NC SoS notifies by mail all organizations who already hold licenses 65 days prior to their annual renewal date of the renewal requirements.  Typically, each organization files its own CSL renewal directly with the NC SoS.

·       The NC SoS has published on its website that all organizations who have a current CSL should disclose its licensure status, such as including a statement with the following wording on all solicitations: “Financial information about this organization and a copy of its license are available from the State Solicitation Licensing Branch at 919-807-2214 or 888-830-4989 for NC Residents.”

·       Licenses are generally due 4 ½ months following the fiscal year-end date of the organization; however, all organizations in “current” standing with the NC SoS receive a 60-day extension without having to request it.  For example, a calendar year organization in current standing has a CSL renewal due date of July 15th in reliance on the automatic 60-day extension.  Absent current standing status, an organization will be subject to late filing penalties upon its eventual updating of its record with the NC SoS.

·       If more time is needed to file the CSL renewal, an additional 30-day extension is available to the organization by filing a copy of the Federal Form 8868 (extension for IRS Form 990) prior to the expiration of the automatic 60-day extension.  As a result, a calendar-year organization may, by timely-filed request, extend the period of time for CSL renewal to August 15th.

·       When the CSL renewal is actually prepared, organizations must comply with the annual financial disclosure requirements via submission of one of the following: (1) a copy of the duly executed Form 990, (2) copy of the Audited Financial Statements, or (3) completing a NC SoS “Annual Financial Report” signed by 3 members of the organization’s board of directors, finance committee or audit committee. 

If you are an organization who needs assistance or has additional questions on the Charitable Solicitation License requirements or renewal process, our accounting professionals at Langdon & Company would be glad to assist. Please contact us at 919-662-1001 for further information.

Also, for further information specific to the North Carolina filing requirements, please visit https://www.sosnc.gov/csl/ThePage.aspx. 

Rebecca rlunn@langdoncpa.com is an Audit Senior who works primarily with non-profit organizations.

Nonprofits: Choosing or Changing the Fiscal Year-End

by Lee Byrd

What is a fiscal year? A fiscal year is the period used for calculating annual (“yearly”) financial statements in businesses and other organizations. Many nonprofits have a fiscal year-end of June 30th. However, this is not a requirement and the organization’s fiscal year can end whenever the nonprofit should chose, as long as the end date is specified in the organizational documents.

So how should a nonprofit chose the best fiscal year-end for the organization? Some things to consider include:

  • Program year – the organization’s fiscal year should coincide with its program year so that one year’s program activities should not fall into two fiscal years. For example, if the majority of the nonprofit’s programs fall during the summer months, June 30th is most likely not the best option for that nonprofit’s fiscal year-end.
  • Grant cycles – Some organizations may find it helpful to align their fiscal year-end with the terms of the organization’s major grants and/or funders. This enables the organization to develop a clean cut-off for grant reporting and simplifies the grants process.
  • Audit evidence – Nonprofits who require an audit generally need time subsequent to year-end to close out the books and gather audit evidence in preparation for the audit. Having a year-end that falls during the organization’s busiest time of year may impact the availability and timeliness of sufficient audit evidence.
  • Debt covenants – For organizations with significant debt covenants, the cyclical nature of the organization’s operations and the impact on the calculation of those covenants should be considered when choosing a year-end.

Once the above factors have been considered and a year-end has been chosen, many nonprofits question the audit and reporting impact of a fiscal year-end change. A year-end change will affect how the nonprofit presents its audited financial statements in the year of change and in the subsequent fiscal year. An organization can chose to extend the period under audit in the year of change or undergo an audit for the short period, plus the original fiscal year. For this reason, it is often common for single year financial statements to be presented rather than comparative statements in the year of change. The need for a comparative financial statement presentation and the costs of an extended or additional audit period should be considered in the year of change.

Lastly, in order to change the organization’s year-end with the IRS, Form 1128 “Application to Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year” will need to be filed along with Form 990 for the short period to bridge the gap between the original year-end and the new year-end. A copy of the nonprofit’s tax exempt ruling letter from the IRS will need to be submitted with along with Form 1128. If an extension is needed for the short-period Form 990, the extension must be filed prior to the initial due date of the new fiscal year. Additionally, the nonprofit will want to review and amend any organizational documents (such as bylaws) that refer to the fiscal year-end.

If you are considering a change to your nonprofit’s year-end, contact Landon & Company LLP for further guidance on your specific situation.

Lee (lbyrd@langdoncpa.com) is an Audit Manager with Langdon & Company LLP.  She works with many healthcare nonprofit organizations.