Nonprofit Accounting 101: a Step-by-Step Guide

Nonprofit accounting can be a complex and daunting task for those who are unfamiliar with the process.

However, by following a few simple steps, nonprofit organizations can ensure that their accounting is accurate and up-to-date.

Nonprofit organizations have a variety of different financial objectives, so it is important to be clear about what the organization is hoping to achieve.

Identifying the goals leads to developing a budget.

Besides the organization’s income and expenses, the budget should also include funds for projects and programs.

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Nonprofit accounting financial reporting requirements

It is the process of tracking, recording, and reporting the financial transactions of a nonprofit organization.

Nonprofit organizations are required to follow certain financial reporting requirements, which are designed to ensure that they are using their resources responsibly and transparently.

The specific requirements vary depending on the country and type of organization, but generally include the disclosure of information about income, expenses, assets, liabilities, and cash flow.

It can be a complex and challenging process, but it is essential for ensuring the fiscal health of the organization.

Nonprofit accounting financial statements

Financial statements for nonprofits show the financial status of the organization.

Nonprofit organizations use this information to make informed decisions about their future.

Nonprofits use three primary financial statements: the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement.

The balance sheet

It is one of the most important nonprofit financial statements in the accounting world.

It provides a snapshot of a company’s assets, liabilities, and equity at a given point in time.

For nonprofits, this information is especially important because it can help stakeholders understand the organization’s financial health.

  It is also possible to assess a nonprofit’s compliance with accounting standards using its balance sheet.  

In the nonprofit world, there are two main types of balance sheets: the statement of financial position and the statement of activities.

The statement of financial position provides a more traditional balance sheet format, while the statement of activities emphasizes changes in net assets over time.

To meet their goals and fulfill their missions, nonprofits must carefully monitor their financial position, regardless of the type of balance sheet they use.  

The income statement

The income statement is one of the most important nonprofit financial statements.

It shows net assets, which are the difference between total assets and total liabilities.

The net assets can be classified as either unrestricted or temporarily restricted.

The income statement also shows functional expenses, which are the costs of operating the nonprofit.

You can divide these expenses into two categories: program expenses and administrative expenses.

Program expenses are the costs of delivering the services of the nonprofit, while administrative expenses are the costs of running the organization.

Finally, the income statement shows funds, which is the accounting method used by nonprofits.

The fund allows nonprofits to track their finances in a way that is separate from for-profit businesses.

This type of accounting is essential for nonprofits because it allows them to manage their finances effectively and transparently.

Many software programs offer accounting funds features, so nonprofits should take advantage of this technology to manage their finances.

The cash flow

For nonprofits, cash flow is always a concern.

Net assets give an organization a sense of its financial health, but they don’t always tell the whole story.

That’s because net assets don’t take into account functional expenses, which can vary greatly from one period to the next.

This is where fund accounting comes in.

Fund accounting is a type of accounting software that helps nonprofits track their expenses and income on a granular level.

This way, they can more accurately forecast their cash flow and make sure they have enough money on hand to meet their obligations.

By using fund accounting software, nonprofits can get a better handle on their finances and ensure that they’re able to keep their doors open for the long term.

By understanding these financial statements, nonprofit organizations can make informed decisions about how to best use their resources.

Cash vs accrual accounting nonprofit

There are two main types of accounting systems used by nonprofits: cash accounting and accrual accounting.

Cash accounting

It is one of the most basic and commonly used accounting methods.

Cash accounting only records fundraising expenses once cash is received.

Because it is easy to keep track of cash inflows and outflows, small businesses and nonprofits often use this method.

However, there are some drawbacks to using cash accounting.

For example, it can give a misleading picture of a nonprofit’s financial health if a large fundraising campaign is underway but the cash has not yet been received.

Additionally, cash accounting does not provide information about accruals or prepaid expenses.

As a result, cash accounting should be used with caution and only as one part of an overall accounting strategy.

Accrual accounting

One of the nonprofit accounting basics is accrual accounting.

This bookkeeping method recognizes economic events regardless of when cash changes hands.

In other words, revenue is recorded when earned (not when the nonprofit receives payment) and expenses are recorded when incurred (not when the nonprofit writes a check or pays with cash). 

The main advantage of accrual accounting is that it provides a more accurate picture of a nonprofit’s financial position.

Accrual accounting also makes it easier to compare financial statements from one period to another because the same recognition rules are used consistently. 

There is two main disadvantage of accrual accounting.

First, it can be more complicated than cash basis accounting.

Second, nonprofit accountants must estimate some amounts, such as uncollected pledges, which can introduce errors into the financial statements. 

Overall, accrual accounting is considers superior to cash basis accounting for nonprofit organizations.

However, each nonprofit should consider its unique circumstances before deciding which method to use.

Accounting for donations to nonprofit organizations

When it comes to accounting for donations to nonprofit organizations, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

First of all, net assets are classified as either unrestricted, temporarily restricted, or permanently restricted.

Having a lot of net assets means the organization can use them whenever it likes.

 The temporarily restricted net assets, on the other hand, are earmarked for specific purposes and cannot be used until those purposes have been met.

Permanently restricted net assets, on the other hand, can never be used and must be held in perpetuity.

It’s important to have a good understanding of these different classification types because they will affect the way you set up your accounting system.

For example, if you receive an unrestricted donation, you will need to track it in your general ledger.

However, if you receive a donation that is permanently restricted, you will need to set up a separate account for it and make sure that it is never used.

The key thing to remember is that all donations must be accounted for by their restrictions. failure to do so could result in serious legal implications.

Nonprofit accounting for in-kind donations

A nonprofit organization must follow special accounting rules when recording in-kind donations.

An in-kind donation is a non-cash contribution, such as clothing, groceries, or computer equipment.

The nonprofit must first determine the fair market value of the donated item.

It then records the donation as either unrestricted or temporarily restricted funds, depending on the donor’s wishes.

The nonprofit must take care to track all in-kind donations carefully, as they can have a significant impact on the organization’s financial picture.

By understanding and following the proper accounting procedures for in-kind donations, a nonprofit can ensure that its financial statements accurately reflect its fundraising activity.

Types of in-kind donations

Nonprofits rely on the generosity of others to help them achieve their goals.

One way that people can donate to a nonprofit is by making an in-kind donation.

The term “in-kind donation” refers to the donation of items or services for free or at a reduced cost.

Individuals, businesses, and other organizations can donate them.

Common examples of in-kind donations include food, office supplies, and professional services.

In-kind donations can be extremely beneficial to nonprofits, as they can help to reduce operating costs and enable the organization to focus its resources on its programs and services.

In-kind donations, however, are not all the same. 

Some may be more useful than others, and some may come with strings attached.

As such, it is important to carefully consider all in-kind donations before accepting them.

Fund accounting for nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations have a unique set of accounting needs.

Unlike for-profit businesses, nonprofits must comply with financial accounting standards set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

Additionally, nonprofit accounting often relies heavily on accounting funds.

Fund accounting is a system of tracking and reporting financial transactions that are associated with a specific source of funding.

It is imperative that nonprofits use this type of accounting so that they can properly credit their donors.

Additionally, accounting funds can help nonprofit organizations track expenses and revenue sources.

This information can be used to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources.

As a result, an accounting fund is an essential tool for nonprofit organizations.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Accounting

As a nonprofit organization, you are required to follow certain accounting practices to maintain your tax-exempt status.

These best practices will help you keep accurate records, comply with IRS regulations, and avoid penalties.

Keep accurate records

It is important to keep accurate records of all your income and expenditures.

This includes documenting all donations, grants, and other sources of funding, as well as tracking how those funds are used.

This will not only help you stay compliant with IRS regulations, but it will also give you a clear picture of your organization’s financial health.

Have a system in place

You should establish separate bank accounts for your organization’s operating expenses and charitable work.

This will help you maintain clear records and avoid the commingling of funds.

Additionally, it is important to have a system in place for tracking pledges and other receivables.

As a result, you will avoid missing any payments and can account for all donations properly.  

Consult with an accountant

You should consult with an accountant or other financial advisor to ensure that you are following all the necessary accounting practices for nonprofits.

This will help you avoid any penalties or problems down the road.

Use special software

One of the best practices for nonprofit accounting is to use accounting software.

This software is designed specifically for nonprofits and can help organizations track their finances, prepare tax returns, and manage payroll.

Accounting software can also help nonprofits to comply with accounting standards and regulations.

Nonprofits with complex financial needs may benefit from accounting software, although it is not necessary for all nonprofits.  

When selecting accounting software, it is important to choose a program that meets the specific needs of the organization.

There are a variety of accounting software programs available, so it is important to take the time to find the right one for the organization.

Training all staff members on how to use the accounting software is crucial after selecting the software.

Training and support services are often available with accounting software programs.

However, some training may need to be provided by an outside provider.

By taking the time to select and implement accounting programs, nonprofits can improve their financial management and ensure compliance with accounting standards.

Refer to your budget frequently

As a nonprofit organization, your accounting practices are subject to state and federal regulations.

You must also follow GAAP when maintaining your financial records.

While this may seem like a lot of rules to follow, some basic nonprofit accounting practices can help simplify the process.

One of the most important things you can do is to refer to your budget frequently.

This will help you stay on track with your expenses and make sure that you are using your resources wisely.

Additionally, by tracking your spending, you will be able to identify any areas where you may be overspending.

This information can be used to make adjustments to your budget and ensure that your nonprofit is in good financial health.

Conduct regular audits

Regular audits are essential for any accounting system, but they are especially important for nonprofits.

By auditing their financial position regularly, nonprofits can ensure that they are using their funds in the most efficient way possible and that their accounting system is accurately reflecting their fundraising expenses.

Additionally, regular audits can help to identify any potential areas of fraud or abuse.

As a result, conducting regular audits is essential for any nonprofit organization that wants to maintain a healthy accounting system.

Establish concrete internal controls

As a nonprofit organization, it is important to maintain accurate financial records to keep your nonprofit status and to ensure that you are using donations as intended.

One way to do this is by establishing concrete internal controls.

To accomplish this, it is necessary to establish clear policies and procedures for accounting and finance, including how money is handled and who has access to financial records.  While accounting software is not required for all nonprofits, it can be a valuable tool for organizations that have complex financial needs.

Additionally, nonprofit organizations should track functional expenses.

This means separating expenses into categories such as administration, fundraising, and program expenses.

Using this method, you can see where your money is going and whether there are areas that can be cut back on.

These nonprofit accounting best practices can help you run your organization efficiently and effectively.

Tell me the difference between nonprofit and for-profit accounting

The primary difference between nonprofit accounting and for-profit accounting is that nonprofit organizations do not have owners, while for-profit businesses do.

Nonprofits do not have to generate a profit or pay taxes, so they can use surplus funds to benefit their cause.  

Nonprofits also tend to have more restrictions on how they can spend their money, as they must use their funds in a way that furthers their tax-exempt purpose.

For-profit businesses, on the other hand, exist to generate a profit for their owners.

While businesses can also be tax-exempt, they must pay taxes on any profits that they earn.

In addition, for-profit businesses have more flexibility in how they can use their funds, as they are not subject to the same restrictions as nonprofits.

As a result, the accounting practices of these two types of organizations are quite different.

Do nonprofits need accountants?

Many nonprofits rely on the financial donations of individuals and private organizations to support their causes.

An organization’s financial practices should be sound in order to effectively manage and spend these funds.  

This is where accountants can play a vital role.

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Accountants can help nonprofits to track their financial position, assess their cash flow, and identify opportunities to reduce administrative costs.

Accountants can help nonprofits use their financial resources more efficiently.  

What accounting standards do nonprofits follow?

Nonprofits generally follow the same accounting standards as for-profit businesses.

The main differences lie in the tax-exempt status of nonprofits and their unique financial reporting requirements.

Nonprofits must follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) when preparing their financial statements.

Due to the fact that they are exempt from state and federal taxes, they can use their income and assets to further their mission.  

In addition, nonprofits must file IRS Form 990, which provides detailed information about their finances and operations.

As a result, nonprofit accounting requires a deep understanding of both GAAP and IRS regulations.

However, the basics of nonprofit accounting are not significantly different from those of for-profit accounting.

What is the best software for nonprofit accounting?

When it comes to nonprofit accounting, there are a few basics that all organizations should understand.

First and foremost, nonprofit accounting is different from for-profit accounting in a few key ways.

For example, nonprofits must track their expenses to maintain their 501(c)(3) status.

Additionally, nonprofits must also prepare financial statements that show how they are using donor funds.

Nonprofit accounting is unique, so it is crucial to use software that caters specifically to it.  


QuickBooks is a popular option for nonprofit accounting.

It offers features like accounting funds and nonprofit reporting, which make it easier to manage the finances of a nonprofit organization.

Additionally, QuickBooks integrates with other software programs that nonprofits often use, such as donor management databases.

Consequently, QuickBooks can be an extremely helpful tool for nonprofit organizations.

Accountants’ skills for nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations rely on the skills of accountants to maintain their financial records and ensure compliance with regulations.

Accountants working in the nonprofit sector must have a thorough understanding of nonprofit accounting principles and procedures.

They must be able to track and report on funding sources, expenditures, and assets.

Additionally, they must be able to analyze and forecast financial data.  

Strong writing and communication skills are also essential, as accountants often prepare grant proposals and reports for donors and funders.

As the financial stewards of nonprofits, accountants play a vital role in ensuring the long-term sustainability of these organizations.

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