One of the most important questions potential donors ask themselves when reviewing nonprofit financials is how an organization uses it funds. Donors want to know that a nonprofit uses them wisely and puts most of its money towards its programs. An analysis of expenses by nature and function can tell a compelling story to potential donors and make it clear that your nonprofit is a responsible steward of its funds.
But there are several common functional expense allocation errors that occur among many nonprofits. Is your organization making these mistakes?
7 Functional Expense Allocation Mistakes
- No expense allocation methodology: Now that GAAP requires nonprofits to disclose the methods they use to allocate costs among programs and various support functions, it’s more important than ever to ensure that you have a reasonable allocation method. It’s assumed that nonprofits will each choose their own allocation method. What’s important is that the method makes sense (is considered “reasonable”) and that it is applied consistently. Lack of a documented expense allocation methodology is a common mistake that is easily rectified.
- Incorrectly classifying management and general expenses: GAAP rules (FASB ASC 720-958-45-7) stipulate that various expenses should be allocated to management and general expenses. This includes payroll, human resources, and accounting costs. In years past, nonprofits had more leeway to allocate these expenses. If your organization hasn’t updated its allocation guidelines, now’s the time to fix this common mistake.
- Allocating too few costs to programs: Another common error is not allocating enough costs to actual programs. An example is an accounting professional whose salary expense is allocated to management, but they provide 100% of support to a particular program. In that case, their costs should be allocated to the program instead of to the overall payroll budget.
- Not considering joint costs: If an activity supports multiple purposes, consider allocating it as a joint cost. FASB ASC Subtopic 958-720, Not-for-Profit Entities-Other Expenses describes the reporting requirements. Creating a systematic and reasonable basis for allocating joint costs and applying it consistently helps rectify this error. Consider and choose from among several allocation methods, too, such as the physical-units method, the relative-direct-costs method, and standalone method.
- Providing the appropriate level of detail: It can be challenging to provide the appropriate level of detail for the natural component of expenses in the functional expense analysis. To find the best level of detail, consider the needs of your audience. What do they want and need to know? Find a happy medium between disclosing too much and too little information.
- Not allocating fundraising expenses: Check that the salaries allocated to fundraising expenses are reasonable. Many organizations fail to allocate fundraising expenses appropriately. Ask yourself if the amount you are currently allocating is reasonable. You may need to make some adjustments.
- Misclassifying investment-related activity: Under current GAAP requirements, direct internal and external investment related expenses should be netted on the statement of activities with the investment return. Based on the new presentation requirements, such expenses should be omitted from the functional expense analysis.
Professional Judgment Is Vital
Nonprofit accounting professionals must use their judgment when considering functional expense allocation. Knowing the common errors and keeping them in mind when reviewing your organization’s financials can help you make prudent decisions that are in the best interests of your nonprofit.
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.