Nonprofit Audit and Accounting FAQs
For not-for-profit entities (NFPs), accurate financial reporting means more than keeping the auditors and creditors happy. NFP staff and donors rely on financial information to monitor the organization’s adherence to budgets, laws, and regulations, as well as to ensure the successful stewardship of its resources. As with most any industry, there are certain aspects of not-for-profit accounting that tend to draw frequent questions.
1. Are NFPs required to use fair value for gifts-in-kind?
The short answer is “yes.” The definition of fair value in FASB Accounting Standards Codification® (ASC) 820, Fair Value Measurement, is “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.” That definition is currently applicable to contributions received by NFPs, including gifts-in-kind (GIK), and leads charities to use fair value, not the most conservative value. Although accounting results may vary based on facts and circumstances, NFPs can improve consistency and accuracy by focusing on key valuation considerations. Management’s documentation of its assessments and conclusions is key.
2. How are net assets classified and recorded?
Net assets are classified based on the existence or absence of donor restrictions. Importantly, NFPs use recordkeeping systems to monitor and track resources based on donor-imposed restrictions. Some donor-imposed restrictions impose limits that are permanent, for example, stipulating that resources be held in perpetuity (not used up) or held in an endowment. Others are temporary, for example, stipulating that resources be used only after a specified date, for particular programs or services, or to acquire buildings and equipment. Net asset classification changed with annual financial statements issued for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017 as a result of the issuance of FASB ASU 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities.
3. How will the new revenue recognition standard affect NFPs?
The new revenue recognition model replaces virtually all existing revenue recognition guidance. The guidance affects all entities—public, private, and NFP—that enter into contracts with customers to transfer goods or services or enter into contracts to transfer nonfinancial assets. Unless those contracts are within the scope of other standards (such as for leases, financial instruments, or insurance contracts), the impact of the new rules must be considered.
4. Do I need to include a Statement of Functional Expenses (SFE) in my report?
Upon adoption, FASB ASU 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities, requires all NFPs to present their expenses by both function and nature in one place, which can be on the face of the Statement of Activities, in a separate statement (such as an SFE), or in the notes to the financial statements. Prior to ASU 2016-14, voluntary health and welfare entities (VHWEs, as defined in the FASB ASC Master Glossary) were required to present an SFE. All other NFPs were not required, but had the option, to present an SFE.
5. Do I need to provide comparative financial statements in my report?
GAAP does not require the presentation of comparative financial statements. While some NFPs present complete comparative information, many present comparative information for the prior year in total, rather than by net asset class. This typically occurs in the Statement of Activities, where the NFP may present only totals for revenues, expenses, gains, losses, and changes in net assets, and choose not to further disaggregate that information by net asset class. This also occurs in the Statement of Functional Expenses where the NFP may include only totals of the natural or functional expense categories (or both) for the prior year, and choose not to present a separate full matrix for the prior year. If presenting summarized comparative financial statements, it is still best practice to provide comparative information in the footnotes to the financial statements.
While GAAP allows NFPs to present comparative information for the prior year in total only and not by net asset class, the “total only” presentation by itself is not fully in compliance with GAAP. Accordingly, GAAP directs the NFP to label the comparative summarized information as “summarized financial information,” or something similar, to alert the reader that the prior-year information is not a full presentation in accordance with GAAP.
6. How do I value time donated by volunteers?
Volunteers and members of the community provide various services to NFPs. Although these services may form an integral part of the NFP’s operations, not all volunteer hours are recognized as contributed services in the entity’s accounting records. NFPs should recognize contributed services received if they (1) create or enhance nonfinancial assets or (2) are specialized skills that would otherwise need to be purchased. Contributed services the meet the definition for recognition are recorded at fair value. The fair value of contributed services that create or enhance nonfinancial assets may be measured based on the fair value of the asset created or enhanced.
NFPs could also receive personnel services, at no charge, from affiliate organizations that directly benefit the recipient NFP. Guidance on the recognition can be found in FASB Accounting Standards Codification® (ASC) 958, Not-for-Profit Entities.
7. How do I explain to my board the difference between the monthly reports they receive and the year-end audited financial statements?
While there are many reasons for differences, the most common reason for a difference between monthly reports and year-end audited financial statements is that monthly reports are typically on a modified cash basis of accounting, while year-end reports are on an accrual basis of accounting. Many NFPs budget on a modified cash basis of accounting during the year; therefore, they maintain their records on a modified cash basis of accounting for comparability purposes. Educating the board on what report differences to expect upfront can help minimize questions at year-end.
8. What is the best way to segregate financial duties in a small- to medium-sized NFP?
Small- to medium-sized NFPs often struggle with segregating financial duties. Volunteers, such as board members, may play a key role in ensuring proper segregation of duties. The best course of action is to segregate duties so that committing and concealing fraud is difficult.
9. How do I know if I have a contribution or an exchange transaction?
Classifying asset transfers as exchange transactions or as contributions is often challenging for NFPs. Certain transactions are easy to distinguish; for example, sales in a museum bookstore are exchange transactions and a donation to a mass fundraising appeal is a contribution. Other transactions may not be as straightforward, and could possibly contain elements of both exchange transactions and contributions (for example, membership dues). Organizations need to determine whether the recipient organization has given up assets, rights, or privileges commensurate with the value of the assets, rights, or privileges received. If so, then the transfer, or portion of the transfer, most likely is an exchange transaction.
10. How far in advance should I start to prepare for my year-end audit?
It’s never too early to start the audit preparation process. As soon as an audit is scheduled, most auditors can provide a list of general information (aka a “prepared by client” list) that is necessary to perform each audit. That list may include items such as board minutes; new contracts, leases, or debt; or internal control process documents. NFPs can look at the prior year’s list and make sure current-year items get compiled into an easy-to-find folder on a rolling basis. A little preparation on the front end could save significant time on the back end.
11. What is the best way to allocate my expenses by function?
Functional expense allocations vary from one NFP to another. Many organizations use a time allocation study to allocate their expenses, while other organizations determine the allocation of their usage of office space and apply that percentage to their indirect expenses. Most organizations use a combination of these methods, and others as determined most relevant, to achieve the most accurate allocations of their expenses by function. The allocation method used should be appropriate to the types of expenses that are being allocated. For example, it would seem more appropriate to allocate utility expenses based on square footage rather than headcount. This process is one of the major differences that distinguishes an NFP from a for-profit entity. Most NFPs depend on contributions from the general public, so their donors rely on the information from their functional expense presentation to determine if their funds are being put to good use. Additionally, ASU 2016-14 clarifies the guidance for the allocation of expenses to program and supporting services. For more information on these changes, read the full ASU. In addition, learn about three key functional expense considerations for auditors and how to avoid common errors in functional expense allocation.
12. Is the accounting for leases going to change in the future?
Yes! For most nonprofits, new guidance for accounting for leases is effective for annual financial statements issued for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019. Note: In October 2019, FASB announced its plans to delay the effective date by one year for NFPs that are not conduit bond obligors, so be sure to monitor FASB.org or your NFP Section eAlerts for updates. This guidance affects all entities and is not specific to NFPs. After implementation, lessees will be required to classify all leases as either operating or financing. Additionally, in most cases, they will be required to recognize a liability for future lease payments and a right-of-use asset representing the entity’s rights to the leased asset over the term of the lease. Read more about the new requirements.