A not-for-profit should consider the following best practices to ensure that internal financial reports prepared for its board of directors and other governance committees are accurate, timely, and decision-useful.
Make it easy to read. Internal financial statements that include management's discussion and analysis of the results presented can be helpful to board members as they carry out their oversight responsibilities. A brief overview of the period presented and highlights of the results that are meaningful to the organization will assist the governing bodies in their decision-making processes. The analysis should be easy to read, avoiding overly technical language while conveying the organization's financial story. In addition, the accompanying financial statements should include, at a minimum, comparative statements of financial position (balance sheet), statements of activities (income statement), and budget-to-actual report.
Describe profit and loss by program. Not-for-profits operating multiple programs (especially those relying on governmental funding) should also consider, as a best practice, producing a profit and loss statement for each program on at least a quarterly basis. The surplus or loss on each program should be compared with the surplus or loss of the corresponding period in the previous year with significant variances explained. As an additional best practice, on an annual basis, a reconciliation should be prepared between the budgeted surplus (or loss) to the surplus (or loss) from the audited financial statements. If a program is regularly operating at a loss, management and the board can evaluate whether the organization should continue to subsidize the program.
Use ratio analysis. Ratio analysis is an effective tool for assessing an organization's financial viability. When produced on at least a semiannual basis, internal reports on key ratios can help organizations monitor their liquidity, performance, activity, and leverage. The ratios can also be used for benchmarking purposes. Each organization should identify which key ratios and metrics are the most meaningful to their business model.
Present cash flow and liquidity data. Periodically throughout the year, organizations should assess their liquidity and availability of resources to meet their cash flow needs for a specified time. These assessments should be shared with the board on a quarterly or semiannual basis. For organizations struggling with cash flow or liquidity issues, reporting may need to be more frequent.
Keep it simple. Avoid lengthy reporting and choose a format that is easy to follow. Provide training to board and senior staff members on how to read and understand the reports so they can ask appropriate questions and make effective decisions. In some cases, dashboard reporting, using visuals to highlight key metrics and indicators, is very effective. Having accounting software that can produce internal financial statements with minimal edits outside of the system is important, providing data integrity while maximizing efficiency.
— By Sibi Thomas, CPA, CGMA, a partner in the Nonprofit, Government & Healthcare Group at Marks Paneth LLP. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-2112.