Flexible Budgets for Not-For-Profits

by Tyler Mosley

Audit Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

Many of the not-for-profit organizations we provide services for use budgets. For the most part, those budgets are static budgets that are set and approved by the board of directors at the beginning of the year and only modified if a significant event occurs during the year. I have seen a growing trend of companies moving towards flexible budgets which can be modified throughout the year based on updated information and current organizational conditions.

While static budgets are usually set at the beginning of a fiscal year and rarely modified, flexible budgets can be modified weekly, monthly or quarterly based on changing conditions. Most of the not-for-profit organizations that use a budget base their budget on projected cash inflows. While some not-for-profit organizations may have steady cash inflows and can reasonably project the fiscal year’s total revenues, many do not. Many not-for-profit organizations rely on donations from businesses and individuals which can vary in timing and magnitude. For these organizations a flexible budget would provide a more useful benchmark with which to manage program expenses. Program expenses could be budgeted for at the beginning of the year based on projected total cash inflow and then increased or decreased each month or quarter based on updated cash inflow information.

Updating the budget throughout the year will prevent surprises each period in which expenses may be under budget but exceed cash inflows. Alternatively, it would also prevent program expenses coming in well below cash inflows when the organization has a great fundraising year. When it is time for your organization to establish a budget, consider setting up so that it can be updated periodically throughout the year as you get more accurate information about your current cash flow situation.

Preventing Fraud in Nonprofit Organizations

By Robert Marchbanks, CPA/CGMA

Audit Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

Most nonprofit organizations operate with limited staff and in a manner that assumes all employees are trustworthy. While the majority of employees are honest and believe in the organization’s mission, there are employees that may face financial hardship from a spouse losing a job, incurring medical bills, or sending a child to college. Other employees believe they are entitled to higher pay and will “justify” embezzling from the organization.

Donald Cressey’s hypothesis on why people commit fraud is referred to as the fraud triangle: Motivation, Rationalization, and Opportunity.

  • Motivation or pressure may include financial problems, addictions like gambling, shopping or drugs, pressure to show good performance or results, or just the thrill of being able to get away with something.
  • Rationalization is when individuals think they are justified because they are underpaid, or it’s for their family, or they need it now but they’ll pay it back before anyone notices.
  • Opportunity is created when there are weaknesses in controls. Individuals think they won’t get caught because nobody is looking, or reviewing, or performing reconciliations and reviews.

While an organization may not be able to prevent motivation or rationalization, there are certain steps the organization can take to minimize the opportunity and the risk of an employee committing fraud. These include:

  1. Set the tone at the top – Management should set the tone at the top for ethical behavior in the organization.
  2. Segregation of duties – No single person should be responsible for receiving, depositing, recording, and reconciling receipt of funds. No single person should be responsible for approving payments, disbursing funds, recording the disbursement transaction, and reconciling the bank statement.
  3. Reconcile accounts in a timely manner – Bank accounts should be reconciled timely by an individual not responsible for recording cash receipts and disbursements.
  4. Documentation and Authorization – You should have invoices to support cash disbursements and the expenditures should be approved by someone outside of accounting. The approval should be in the form of a signed purchase order or signed approval on the invoice. Maintain proper accounting records for all transactions.
  5. Written whistleblower and conflict of interest policies – The whistleblower policy should provide a phone number for the employee to call to report the fraud and remain anonymous. The conflict of interest policy should prevent private inurement.
  6. Look for employees living beyond their means – Be aware of the type of car the employee drives, the vacation destinations they travel to, and the jewelry that they wear.
  7. Carry insurance for employee theft – Even with the fraud policies and procedures in place, you should carry insurance to cover employee theft. This will minimize the risk of the financial hardship of the nonprofit organization.
  8. Keep check stock in a secure location accessed only by authorized personnel.

While the above list is not all-inclusive, hopefully it will encourage you to review your current policies and procedures at your nonprofit organization and implement procedures to deter and detect employee fraud. Please let us know if we can help in reviewing your risk assessment of your policies and procedures.