A Guide to Nonprofit Budgeting: Navigating the Essentials

By | Accounting, Accounting Software, Budget, Nonprofit | No Comments
A Guide to Nonprofit Budgeting, people at desk or table with tablet, spreadsheets, and ledger

Budgets provide the financial foundation upon which an organization must run all its activities. Without a budget, it is almost impossible to manage cash flow. Budgets provide structure, organization, and financial stability that helps you with strategic planning.

Although it’s possible to run a company or a nonprofit solely off cash flow without budgeting for specific activities, it makes planning for steady growth and new activities very difficult. Budgets serve as both guidelines and tools, helping organizations plan for activities, manage cash flow, and view expenses. Here, we’ll share with you the main types of budgets used by nonprofits, as well as discuss each section of the budget in greater detail. Lastly, we’ll talk about ways to manage nonprofit budgeting to make the process go smoothly.

Key Components of Nonprofit Budgets: Income (Revenue) and Expenses

We can break nonprofit budgets into two simple categories: income and expenses. Income refers to money coming into the organization, and expenses refers to the money the organization spends. All financial activities can be grouped under each category. The difference between income and expenses results in a surplus when the difference is positive (more income than expenses) or a loss or deficit (when expenses exceed income).

Source of Income

Your organization probably has several sources of income. Some of these income sources are unique to the nonprofit world. Typical sources of income include donations, program fees, membership fees, sales of products or services, grants, and special events.

Because nonprofits invest their income into their programs and services to fulfill their mission, they must track carefully where revenues come from and how they are spent. Sometimes, nonprofit income is tied to specific programs or activities. For example, donors may indicate they wish their donation to be used only for a specific program or added to the general operating fund. If the donation is intended for a specific program, the organization must ensure that they budget the funds or add them to the fund for that specific activity.

A good example is a nonprofit animal shelter. Many have “spay and neuter funds,” which are set up to pay for low-cost or free spay/neuter programs to address the surplus of homeless animals in the local community. If donors give to that program, the shelter must honor the donor’s wishes and ensure that the money is spent on that program. They cannot reapportion the funds for the general budget to pay for advertising, for example, or for salaries and wages; funds raised for a specific purpose must go to fulfill that purpose.

Another example of how nonprofit revenues must be tracked differently from for-profit income streams is grants. Grants are often given for highly specific purposes or to fund specific programs. Granting organizations often require careful accounting of how the funds are spent.

Importance of Diversifying Income

Although we spoke at length about two sources of income—donations and grants—nonprofits receive income from many places. They may sell products or charge a fee for services. They may receive donations of goods. Each of these income categories requires careful tracking and recording of the income received.

As in the for-profit world, smart nonprofits diversify their income as much as possible. It’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket or rely solely on one channel for income. A nonprofit that relies on a single large grant to fund multiple program activities may be in deep trouble if the grant doesn’t continue, for example. A diverse income stream of donations, fees for services or goods, grants, and other sources of income ensures that even if trouble hits one category, it won’t jeopardize the entire budget.


Expenses refers to everything your organization must spend money on to keep running: operational costs (overhead, utilities, telephone and internet expenses, professional fees, insurance), rents or licenses, fixed assets such as furniture and computers, marketing and sales, salary, and benefits. You must track all your expenses to ensure that you have a clear and detailed view of how your organization spends its money.

Once you track expenses, it becomes clear which categories are consuming the largest share of the budget. You can then take steps to either minimize this spend or manage it prudently. There are many areas where expenses can be cut without compromising the quality of the services you deliver. For example, you may be able to cut back on insurance expenses by shopping for and comparing different policies and coverages. Or you may find that hiring remote employees helps you keep rent costs low because you don’t need as large an office building. These are just examples of how expenses can be managed to keep them low.

The Most Common Types of Budgets Used by Nonprofits

There are many ways in which you can create a budget. If your organization has a budget in place, you may use that as a starting point each year and adjust income and expenses based on projections. You may also find that a new approach to budgeting is helpful.

The three most common types of budgets used by nonprofits include:

  1. Program-Based Budgeting: This approach is widely used by nonprofits as it aligns budget allocations directly with the organization’s programs and initiatives. It allows for clear tracking of resources allocated to each program, making it easier to assess the effectiveness and impact of those programs.
  2. Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB): While not as prevalent as program-based budgeting, ZBB is still commonly used by nonprofits, especially those seeking to ensure maximum efficiency and accountability in resource allocation. ZBB encourages a thorough review of all expenses, promoting cost-conscious decision-making throughout the organization. Zero-based budgets start at zero each year, with budgets built from scratch. Each expense and income must be estimated from scratch based on current conditions.
  3. Outcomes-Based Budgeting: Nonprofits are increasingly adopting outcome-based budgeting to demonstrate the impact of their activities and investments. By linking budget allocations to desired outcomes or impacts, organizations can better prioritize resources and measure their effectiveness in achieving their mission.

Ready, Set, Budget! The Budgeting Process

Creating a good budget takes time. Leave at least several weeks to build your budget and, if you need to gain approval from your board or managers, time for review, feedback, revision, and final approval.

Depending on the type of budget you are building, there are several ways to begin the process. You’ll need to understand all the categories you have to account for in the income and expense areas. Gather the necessary information: previous years’ income statements and cash flows, sources of revenues, and the like, as well as expenses.

Determine a reasonable percent by which you think you can increase both income and expenses. It’s natural to hope for the best, but it’s better to conservatively estimate increased income. If you plan to increase income, will you need to spend more on specific activities, such as marketing and donor relationships, to achieve your goals? All of these must be considered as part of your strategic plan as well as the budgeting process.

Your organization’s accountant or bookkeeper is instrumental in the budgeting process. Schedule time to review income and expenses together. Then, connect with staff as needed to gather additional input.

A budget is a living document. Like a good strategic plan or marketing plan, adjustments should be made to it as the year progresses (it’s not a once-and-done activity). Schedule periodic budget reviews and make necessary adjustments to income projections or expenses as you need to ensure an end-of-year surplus that can be invested back into the organization’s mission. A quarterly review may be sufficient. Some organizations conduct budget reviews monthly, others quarterly or twice a year. At a minimum, an annual budget review and budgeting cycle are necessary for a healthy financial picture.

Tools to Make Budgeting Easier

There are several types of accounting software that can make nonprofit budgeting easier. Spreadsheets are frequently used but have several drawbacks. They must be manually updated and can grow to be quite complex depending on the number of programs you’re managing. They also lack good reporting functions.

Many small business software packages seem like they would be a good step up, but these also have several drawbacks. While they can automate many tasks and produce good reports like balance statements, cash flows, and similar reports, they may require extensive customization to track income and expenses by program, or track donation information. They are not built for the unique requirements of nonprofit accounting.

Nonprofit accounting software is built specifically for nonprofit budgeting. There are packages for nonprofits and government accounting, so you start with a system designed with your specific income and expense needs in mind. Some offer cloud or browser-based versions, which make it easy for remote employees and auditors to log into the system to perform the work.

Welter Consulting

Whether you are new to nonprofit budgeting or highly experienced at it, if you need assistance choosing your budgeting method, selecting nonprofit accounting software, or moving from spreadsheets or another software to a new nonprofit-specific accounting platform, contact Welter Consulting. We are happy to help.

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact us for more information.

Give Your Budget a Checkup with These Best Practices

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Budgets aren’t set in stone. Rather, they evolve over the fiscal year. They require periodic checkups and adjustments to make them work for, rather than against, an organization’s needs.

If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed this fiscal year’s budget, take time now to go over the budget. Work with your accounting person or department to review projected expenses, income, and more, and give your budget a thorough checkup and tune-up with the following nonprofit budgeting best practices.

Nonprofit Accounting and Budgeting Best Practices

  1. Continuous monitoring: Budgets must be monitored continuously. This includes using both operational processes and the right software to provide up-to-date information. Continuous monitoring enables you to take action quickly should you need to adjust the budget based on actual and projected figures. It also lets you catch and correct mistakes quickly. Schedule time for budget reviews each month and add it to your calendar now.
  2. Assess and review: In addition to monitoring the budget to make sure there are no mistakes, assess and review the major line items periodically. You may need to shift funds from one budget to another or update lines based on cash flow. Special projects, especially those that take more than a year, may need to be treated separately in the budgeting system so that you can maintain, monitor, and review the project budget within a different timeframe than the organization’s general budget.
  3. Ask key questions: During the budget review, ask key questions. These questions may include:
    1. Did you gain or lose any important sources of funding?
    2. Do any granting institutions need updates on how their funds are being spent?
    3. Are there any new economic challenges on the horizon? If so, how can you adjust the budget to prepare for them?
    4. Is there any important or unexpected need that will require special funding?
    5. Are any lines running low? Expecting a surplus?
  4. Revise the budget according: Budgets are working documents, not final outputs. It’s fine to revise the budget and to make adjustments as needed to accommodate changing situations.
  5. Review bylaws and budgets: Bylaws may address budgetary issues. Review the organization’s charter and bylaws now to make sure that any changes you make to the budget follow the bylaws.

Communicate Budget Updates to Your Team

Lastly, budget checkups shouldn’t end with closing the computer or signing off on the updates. You must take the time to provide your staff with an update on the budget.

You may wonder why this is important considering that most people on your staff don’t have budgetary responsibilities. It’s simple: everyone needs to know where the organization’s finances stand. They may not need all of the details, but they need to know that there’s enough money to continue operations, address problems, and reinvest. If there’s a shortfall, they need to know that too, so they can take measures to conserve funds and cut expenses.

It may help to use data visualizations such as graphs and charts to explain the big picture to your staff. This is where cloud-based nonprofit accounting software comes in handy. Such programs offer the ability to run reports using up-to-the-minute data and provide easy-to-understand visuals to accompany your presentation.

Now’s the time to review, revise, and adjust the budget. Make an appointment with your accountant or CFO today to begin the process. And, be sure to schedule the next review now, too. Remember, budgeting is an ongoing process, not a final report.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

Feeling – and Dealing – with Being Overwhelmed

By | Abila, Accounting, Accounting Software, Budget, Cloud, Corporate Culture, Fiscal, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit, Professional Development, Technology | No Comments

It’s not confined to tax season. A look at why you’re feeling overwhelmed, and how to deal with it.

In the book “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time”, authors Jeff and J.J. Sutherland have an interesting chart on page 91. In this chart, they cite statistics that indicate that as one’s attention is divided, productivity decreases. Working on two projects at once means a 20% loss in productivity due to switching gears; three projects at once, and you lose about 40% due to context switching.

Accountants and financial managers at nonprofits aren’t immune to this loss, due to context switching. In fact, we’re probably more vulnerable to it due to the focused nature of our work. Dealing with financial issues, accounting questions, and understanding complex financial information requires quiet, focused time. The barrage of instant messenger apps, phone calls, emails, texts and myriad information streams in today’s connected world increases the loss due to context switching. Multi-tasking for greater productivity is a myth.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Nearly all professionals are feeling overwhelmed these days. It’s as if the crunch before tax season never ends. Researchers point to the common culprits – instant messengers, instant news, instant everything – as a big part of the problem. The human brain isn’t wired to deal with this level of intensity, and we haven’t had time to adapt to the rapid pace of change that technology has wrought in our personal and business lives.

Although we cannot fully shut the world out and switch off the phones, there are ways to improve productivity. These include avoiding context or task switching, single-tasking instead of multi-tasking, and establishing boundaries around office times.

Single-Tasking for Greater Productivity

Multi-tasking does not improve productivity. Instead, it diminishes productivity because the mind needs time to acclimate to the second task. As we focus on one task, our attention is fixed on that task; switching to a second task takes brain power to establish focus, change direction, and process new information.

Don’t buy into the myth of multi-tasking. Instead, turn off the music or the television while you work. Shut the door to your office. Switch off the instant messages and turn your cell phone to mute while you work on a project. Allow yourself the space to focus, rather than trying to cram as many tasks as you can into the same amount of time.

Set Office Rules

Another tip to improve productivity and avoid feeling overwhelmed is to set some basic ground rules around your time in the office. While many managers prefer an ‘open door’ policy and make themselves available to their staff at any time, you may need to establish some basic policies around availability.

Some managers have ‘office hours’ when they leave their door open as a clear signal to their teams that they can drop in and ask any questions they wish. Others block out time on their calendar for quiet, focused work. Either method works fine. The point is to ensure that you have adequate quiet time for focused work and additional time blocked out for your teams.

Switch Off the Mobile Phone

 Cellphones are a great convenience, but their buzzing, shrilling, vibrating presence has ruined many a meeting, family dinner, or quiet time. Shut off the mobile phone when you aren’t at work or when you need some space. Texts are rarely as urgent as we make them out to be, and your brain needs a break from the constant stream of messages and information it’s trying to process.

Give Yourself Permission to Rest

 Lastly, give yourself permission to rest on the weekends, vacations and holidays. When you’re behind schedule on projects, it is tempting to trying to bring work home or devote a few extra hours in the evening to finishing up a project. Occasionally burning the midnight oil doesn’t hurt  but making it a habit can cut into your overall productivity. Ensuring balance in all things takes time, practice and effort, but it helps your overall productivity.

Everyone feels overwhelmed at times by work. If it becomes chronic, however, it’s time to take steps to safeguard your time. Burnout happens in all professions, including accounting and finance, nonprofit and for-profit companies.


Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.


Choosing the Right Payment Processing Service to Accept Online Donations

By | Budget, Cryptocurrency, Donations, Fiscal, Fundraising, Nonprofit | No Comments

Most nonprofits accept donations through their website. If you don’t, you are missing out on many potential donations. Donors motivated to respond to an online solicitation, email, or news articles about the cause your work supports may wish to donate immediately rather than write a paper check and drop it in the mail. Accepting online donations provides a simple, easy pathway for people to give when they are able and motivated to do so.

Yet with so many choices of online payment processors, credit card payment gateways, bank payment systems, third party payment processors, and now even cryptocurrencies, what’s a nonprofit to do?

We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for you to understand the many possible methods of accepting payments and help you sort through both the pros and cons of each. When you’re ready to proceed, if you still have questions, please call Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113. We are happy to help.

How Online Payment Systems Work

Nearly everyone reading this has purchased something online, so you should be familiar with how online payments work from the consumer end. The consumer end is called the “front end” or the “interface.” The shopping cart system is fairly straightforward, with variations to allow for different goods or services purchased. An online clothing retailer may have a spot for discount or coupon codes; a nonprofit may have a spot to share a message if the donation is in honor of someone.

Behind the interface or shopping cart  is a complex network of information shared by multiple parties to complete a credit card transaction online.


Encryption means coding the information sent over the internet so that it cannot be ready unless someone has the key to decode it. After clicking “pay” or “order”, your credit card information is encrypted for security purposes. It then goes to an aggregator or a bank processor.


 An aggregator is a company that processes payments. As the name implies, aggregators collect payments from multiple entities such as merchants, nonprofits, and others to accept credit card payments and bank transfers without the need to set up a special merchant account. The aggregator makes an agreement with the merchant bank and batches multiple companies under their account for processing. In return, they assume a greater risk since they are dealing with multiple entities and may charge more for their services.

Acquirer (Bank)

 Merchant accounts are created by a merchant bank (called an acquirer). The bank settles and deposits the funds from the transaction into your bank account. They are responsible for ensuring that payment is rendered to your account once the transaction is approved.

Cryptocurrency Wallets

 Yet a third payment method available to nonprofits today is cryptocurrency. Bitcoin, Ether, LiteCoin and many other alternative payment methods are all potential forms of donation. Accepting donations in such coins is a slightly different process than accepting direct payments.

Cryptocurrencies are sent via the blockchain. An exchange facilitates sending and receiving cryptocurrencies. Senders can transmit their currency to the receiver’s wallet, a unique address that can be shared on your site to accept payments.

To set up a wallet, you’ll need to create an account with an exchange and submit information to pass KYC (know your customer). Cryptocurrencies received through the exchange can be changed into dollars or other government-backed currencies and deposited into your bank account. The exchange subtracts a fee for the transfer, which varies according to the exchange.

Pros and Cons of Each Payment Method

There is no clear-cut, single answer about which payment method is best for a nonprofit. You’ll need to weigh each factor in your decision.



  • Easier and faster to set up an account since aggregators tend to accept all types of businesses including new nonprofits.
  • Aggregators tend to be on the alert for fraud even more readily than banks because they accept riskier clients.
  • Better for small nonprofits with lower volume of monthly transactions.


  • Charge a higher fee than banks.
  • Less customer support and service.

Merchant Banks


  • Better for established nonprofits.
  • Better if you have higher volume of monthly transactions.
  • Better customer service than aggregators.


  • Higher fees.
  • Pickier about who they accept, so if your nonprofit is new, banks may turn you away.
  • Tends to be better for high or steady volume, so if you can’t predict donation volume yet, may be costly.

Cryptocurrency Exchanges


  • Adds a new donation method to your nonprofit.
  • High appeal to young donors – millennials, Generation Z, etc.
  • Extremely high level of security through the blockchain.
  • Transactions cannot be reversed by the donor.
  • Transparency on both ends – donor can see that you received the money through blockchain confirmation.


  • Fees can be high on some exchanges.
  • Nonprofit must pass KYC.

Clearly, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to processing donations. Thankfully, there are plenty of choices, and you can use what suits your nonprofit the best. Sorting through your choices may be the most complex part of the process, but if you need help, please contact us.


Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.