To err is human, but your not-for-profit’s supporters, not to mention the IRS, may be less than forgiving if errors affect your financial books. Fortunately, if you attend to non profit accounting details, you can avoid these common pitfalls:
1. Failing to follow non profit accounting procedures.
Even the smallest nonprofit should set formal, documented and detailed procedures for managing financial and bookkeeping chores. Your process should include all aspects of managing your organization’s money — how to accept, document and deposit donations, pay bills, and handle every step in between. Put these procedures in writing and make sure you follow each step, every time.
2. Making data entry errors.
It’s easy to wreak havoc on your accounts by entering a $500 payment as $50 or transposing numbers. So check and double-check every entry every time. Reconcile accounts against bank statements immediately, and don’t overlook even the smallest discrepancy.
3. Working without a budget.
You can’t control overspending or invest a surplus if you don’t know they exist. Budgets don’t have to be intricate to be useful; just look at a few months’ worth of bills and deposits to create a starting point. Then refine your plan as you go along. Include a “miscellaneous” category, but don’t allow it to account for the majority of your expenses.
4. Playing loose with petty cash.
Small expenditures like picking up a few office supplies or buying a pizza for volunteers is much easier to do with a petty cash fund. Handle the cash with care, though. Lock it up, authorize only a few people to make disbursements and require receipts for all expenditures.
5. Neglecting to properly categorize.
All money coming in and going out of your organization must be assigned to the appropriate nonprofit accounting category. This is particularly important if you accept donations that may be earmarked for certain programs. To be successful at this, you need to properly set up the initial chart of accounts and define how items should be assigned.
If you’ve mastered the steps above, here’s one more thing you can do to take it to the next level.