Run your non-profit better with cloud accounting software
Running a non-profit is a labor of love. But when it comes to accounting for donations, expenses and volunteers – it becomes just labor. Your mission is to serve your constituents and provide financial transparency to donors, board members and volunteers. While this is a necessary responsibility – it can be time-consuming, especially when you don’t have the right accounting software but with Xero accounting software, it isn’t hard at all.
How Xero can help your organisation
Xero is the online accounting choice for modern non-profits because it’s easy to use. Based in the cloud, Xero enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of your non-profit anytime, anywhere. And sharing critical donation and expense data with key stakeholders is a snap. Best of all, Xero makes it easy to get up and running – or switch from cumbersome, outdated accounting systems – so your non-profit can better deliver on its mission.
Non-profit accounting: The basics
Running a non-profit organisation is different from managing a conventional business – and the accounts are handled differently too. So what do you need to know about non-profit accounting?
Non-profits are businesses too
Non-profit businesses are sometimes called not-for-profit entities, especially by accountants. Unlike a conventional business, a non-profit company’s main aim isn’t to make lots of money.
Instead these entities are often charities or small clubs. They handle money, such as donations and membership fees, but in a different way to a for-profit business.
In other respects a non-profit company works just like a regular business. Money comes in, money goes out, employees are paid and day-to-day operations are carried out.
All of this has to be accounted for, by law. There are legal processes that not-for-profit entities have to go through – when they are formed and on a regular basis from then on. Non-profit accounting is a big part of this work.
In this guide we’ll look at what you need to do to set up your non-profit company and keep it running smoothly – and legally.
Is your business really non-profit?
Not all types of business are suitable to be run as non-profit organizations. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What’s your motive?
What is the purpose of your business? If it’s to provide charitable services, or to handle the accounts of a social or sports club, there’s a good chance it qualifies as a non-profit.
Where will revenue come from?
Non-profits tend to get most of their income from donations, membership fees, fundraising events, grants from the public or private sector and perhaps investment income.
Are there other non-profits like yours?
Whether or not your business will be granted non-profit status depends on a number of factors. It will help if there are other not-for-profit companies with a similar structure.
The regulations vary depending on where you set up your business, so check local laws for guidance.
Six steps to get started as a non-profit
There are some hoops to jump through before you can start running your not-for-profit business:
1.Incorporate your company
File the necessary paperwork with the appropriate government agency. It’s easy to forget to do this, but you may be liable for extra taxes if you don’t do it on time.
2.Apply for tax exemptions
Laws vary: in the US, for example, you can apply for Federal and State tax exemptions as a 501(c)(3) organization. Again, do this early on to get the most benefit from it. Note that although your business is tax-exempt, your employees will still have to pay taxes.
3.Create a business plan
Good quality non-profit accounting software can help you here, allowing you to run through different forecasts and scenarios. Play with the numbers and see which plan works best for you.
4.Plan your fundraising
You’ll probably have no products or services to sell, at least at the beginning. So how will you raise money? A well-thought-out fundraising plan will help keep cash flowing in.
5.Look into financing
Non-profits can apply for various grants and other forms of finance, from the public and private sectors. An online search can be helpful here. Check your government’s business website for details.
6.Structure your outgoings
How much can you afford to spend? Your business was set up to provide a useful service, but you’ll need to budget carefully to make sure expenditure doesn’t exceed income. Again, accounting software can help here.
Record all revenues
Non-profit companies can have many different sources of revenue. Each of these must be accounted for:
A pledge is a promise to give money. Some pledges might be conditional on a future event (such as the same amount being matched by another donor), so record these carefully.
These might come as a result of street collections, postal campaigns, cold-calling, web advertising or email marketing. All donations must be recorded, whether cash, check, money transfer or internet payment.
Time is money, and must be accounted for as such. That’s especially true if it adds value to your organization, or if the person concerned has a special skill such as bookkeeping.
These are collected by social clubs and societies in return for access to facilities or services.
If you collect entrance fees for a fundraiser or other event, this is revenue to be recorded.
Larger non-profit organizations might buy investments such as stocks or land. There are rules about this, so check your tax office for details.
Grants and other lump sums
Remember, there are grants available for non-profit companies, from central and local government and also from the private sector. All the money you receive in this way must be recorded in your accounts.
Think like a regular business
Just because you’re running a not-for-profit company doesn’t mean you can’t strive to make your business successful. The more efficiently you run your organization, the better the service you’ll be able to provide to the people who need it. Here are some ideas:
Hire the right employees
A non-profit organization doesn’t technically have an owner. But it does still have people in positions of responsibility, such as the secretary or treasurer. It’s important that these people fulfilll their roles to the best of their abilities. So make sure you hire well.
Strive to earn more than you spend
You’re not technically trying to make a profit. But if you collect more in revenues than you spend, that extra money can be either reinvested or spent on extra services or facilities.
Look for business opportunities
Network with business owners, talk to advisors and your peers. Learn about opportunities to raise money for your non-profit company or improve the services you offer.
Talk to your ‘customers’
The people receiving your company’s services can be considered as customers. Whether it’s the members of the club you run or the recipients of your charitable services, talk to them. Find out what they really need from you, then tailor your organization to match.
Make the most of your non-profit status
There are advantages to running a not-for-profit organization. Obviously the big one is not having to pay tax on net income (subject to local laws).
The paperwork tends to be lighter, too, as governments try to keep non-profit red tape to a minimom. For example, you may be exempt from providing regular balance sheets and statements of income.
All of this will hopefully leave your business with more money in its accounts. Use it wisely. Your organization was set up either to serve its members or improve the welfare of a group of vulnerable people – or society in general.
By following best practices and carefully monitoring all the money received and spent, you’ll be able to serve those people well – and make a real difference to their lives.
Please contact us if you like to know further.