By Tyler Butler, BerryDunn
Benchmarking doesn’t need to be time and resource consuming. Read on for four simple steps you can take to improve efficiency and maximize resources. [Read more…]
By Tyler Butler, BerryDunn
Benchmarking doesn’t need to be time and resource consuming. Read on for four simple steps you can take to improve efficiency and maximize resources. [Read more…]
By William B. Ford, CPA, and Linda J. Kramer, CPA, MBA
G.T. Reilly & Company
You may have heard that new financial reporting standards are coming down the pike that will affect your organization. The good news is that the new standards don’t take effect for more than a year, giving you plenty of time to familiarize your organization with any new requirements. A review of your organization’s financial reporting practices may be beneficial in preparation for the new standards.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14, Presentation of Financial Statements for Not–for-Profit Entities. This ASU is the first phase of a two-phase project and is intended to make nonprofit financial reporting more transparent.
Specifically, the new standards will improve net asset classification requirements and information presented in the financial statements and notes about a nonprofit entity’s liquidity, financial performance and cash flows.
The changes are effective for organizations with fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017, although early implementation is permitted. These amendments should be applied on a retrospective basis. The nonprofit has the option to omit certain information for any period presented before the period of required adoption.
If you have questions about whether your current practices will be in compliance with the new standards, or if you would like assistance with implementation of the new accounting rules, please contact us at 617-696-08900.
Josh Sattely, Esq., Third Sector New England
How can the philanthropic sector best identify and support promising new initiatives? A different way to ask the question is what’s the difference between a ham sandwich and a new public charity? Not much these days as far as the IRS is concerned as there is no meaningful vetting being done on new applicants filing the Form 1023-EZ.
For those not familiar with the 1023-EZ, it is an ill-advised solution to address the previous astounding backlog of public charity applications sitting with the IRS. Thought leaders in the field fear this open door policy will greatly dilute what it means to be a public charity and cause a myriad of problems down the road.
So, how can foundations and other mindful donors interested in supporting new and promising charitable initiatives separate the promising wheat from the chaff and ensure these groups are effectively navigating a complex compliance environment? One increasingly utilized solution is fiscal sponsorship, more specifically comprehensive fiscal sponsorship where the charitable initiative is positioned and supported as a semi-autonomous program or business division of an established nonprofit for the duration of the relationship.
Why does this help anyone you ask? For starters, when done right, the fiscal sponsor has a seasoned board of directors committed to the success of both their immediate organization and all projects operating under their purview. They vet potential partners not only on mission compatibility but also assess risk profile, and sponsors work closely with the project to ensure continual movement towards sustainability while not inadvertently driving off a compliance cliff.
Once a fiscal sponsorship relationship is established, projects benefit from the flexibility and experience of experienced nonprofit professionals; the most common supports being financial management and oversight, legal compliance, risk management, and human resources and benefits administration. A growing number of sponsors also provide additional capacity-building supports such as trainings, coaching and, eventually, succession planning. Fiscal sponsors are not profit-making centers but need to cover their costs and typically do so via an overhead cost allocation. To determine if the cost allocation is reasonable, be sure to take a close look at what supports the project receives.
The fiscal sponsorship incubator approach described above is exactly how the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) began its journey. MNN operated under TSNE for its first three years so it could focus on business model development and internal capacity building while TSNE shouldered the administrative and compliance burdens. Once it had built its own infrastructure, it transitioned to independence and all assets held by TSNE for the benefit of MNN were transferred to the new entity to be deployed in advancement of MNN’s mission.
In sum, well-vetted and nurtured nonprofits change the world. The turnkey model of comprehensive fiscal sponsorship serves both as a runway for groups such as MNN and as a long-term home for thriving initiatives where the need for independence is less compelling. Because of this unique relationship, fiscal sponsors have a vested interest in the long-term success of those they partner with whether the legal relationship lasts for a few years or a few decades.
Josh Sattely, Esq., is the Compliance and Legal Affairs Specialist for Third Sector New England (TSNE). TSNE’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program works with 88 nonprofit projects across the country, stewards $27 million in project funds and offers an effective shared services platform adding financial management and risk management, assuring legal and grants compliance and administering employee compensation and benefits for innovative social justice initiatives. TSNE has nearly 60 years of experience in the field of Fiscal Sponsorship and also partners with other nonprofits, foundations, community-based groups by providing a dynamic mix of management and consulting services, training programs, and grants to grassroots networks. Visit their website: www.tsne.org.
How organizations can set themselves apart to secure—and retain—donors
By Shannon Crowley, CPA, MSA, BlumShapiro
Despite the Great Recession and the long process of economic recovery of the 2000s, the non-profit sector has become one of the country’s fastest-growing industries. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics’ most recent research, the United States is home to more than 1.5 million registered non-profit organizations—marking a nearly 20 percent increase over the last 10 years, a timeframe in which many businesses in the for-profit sector have struggled.
This rapid growth is certainly a sign of success, and—as non-profits employ nearly 11 million American workers and contribute roughly $887 billion to the national economy—it is difficult for anyone to argue against the economic value of a thriving non-profit sector.
However, the unprecedented rate at which new organizations are being created is also creating a challenge. The non-profit sector is more crowded than ever before, making it very difficult for organizations to secure—and retain—their donor bases.
On a local level, there are 33,000 non-profit organizations registered in Massachusetts—each competing with one another for precious dollars from a limited pool of individual donors, corporate foundations and other fundraising sources. In a recent cover story in The Boston Globe, many industry experts argue the field of non-profit organizations in Massachusetts is simply too large to sustain.
However, the organizations themselves, and the tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents employed by non-profits, are doing everything they can to prove those experts are wrong.
And that starts with donor retention.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals reports that, on average, donor retention rates across the non-profit sector are around 43%, meaning less than half of an organization’s 2016 donor base will contribute. In order to grow in a competitive non-profit environment, organizations have to find a way to land recurring donors. To do this, non-profits are employing several strategies. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on three:
Many potential donors or grant-awarding foundations would love to support every deserving cause that asks for and needs their help. Realistically, though, donors need to choose between hundreds, if not thousands, of similarly operating organizations to which they can lend their financial support. Non-profits, especially non-profits working to support similar demographics, are under enormous pressure to set themselves apart to attract new sources of funding. It’s never been more important for a non-profit to have a very clear, very specific mission.
2. Investing in “fundraising infrastructure”
Fundraising success is entirely beholden to the amount of time and resources organizations are willing to invest. In order to succeed in today’s hyper-competitive non-profit sector, organizations must invest in fundraising professionals, such as high-ranking development officers, and fundraising “infrastructure,” such as top-notch technology and donor databases.
The clear, specific vision makes an organization attractive to donors. Development professionals and in-depth donor databases help organizations find them.
3. Increase efficiency by streamlining their accounting functions
Back-office financial work is crucial to the long-term success of the organization. That said, it’s also very time-consuming. As many organizations are investing significantly more time to their fundraising operations, some non-profit leaders are finding ways to take complex financial paperwork off their desk so they can focus on the organization’s core competencies. This may entail creating new jobs for a full-time accounting team, or hiring a third-party financial organization to take on those responsibilities.
Shannon Crowley, CPA, MSA, is an Accounting Manager at BlumShapiro, the largest regional business advisory firm based in New England, with offices in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The firm, with over 400 professionals and staff, offers a diversity of services which includes auditing, accounting, tax and business advisory services. In addition, BlumShapiro provides a variety of specialized consulting services such as succession and estate planning, business technology services, employee benefit plan audits and litigation support and valuation. The firm serves a wide range of privately held companies, government and non-profit organizations and provides non-audit services for publicly traded companies.
Nonprofit 411: Is a Cause Marketing Campaign Right for Your Nonprofit?
By Ellen Lubell, Attorney-at-Law, Tennant Lubell, LLC
Cause marketing campaigns – also referred to as “charitable sales promotions” and “commercial co-venturer campaigns” – are mutually beneficial collaborations between a for-profit business and a nonprofit charity to increase recognition of the nonprofit’s name and cause, and to generate goodwill for the business because of its association with the nonprofit. It may also generate revenues for the nonprofit and profits for the business.
Cause marketing has been around since the mid-1970s. For example, the “Buy One Give One” campaigns involving businesses such as Toms Shoes guarantee that social or environmental good will be done through their charitable partners each time a shopper purchases their products. General Mills and the American Heart Association (AHA) teamed up to give a “heart check” stamp of approval to products such as Cheerios to certify that these products meet certain nutritional standards, thus advancing AHA’s educational mission and promoting sales of General Mills products.
Since cause marketing is intended to have an impact on the success or failure of the nonprofits involved, state charity regulators —typically Attorney General offices—scrutinize these campaigns to assure that nonprofits’ assets are being used appropriately and are not unduly benefiting private businesses.
If you are contemplating a cause marketing campaign for your organization, questions you should ask include:
1. Is the business partner you’re considering likely to be trustworthy and aligned with your interests?
Due diligence is important. Check out your partner’s financial and legal health; investigate its management practices and reputation; find out its record on issues relevant to your mission and ensure that their practices will not prove to be embarrassing; and make certain that you are compatible.
2. Are there risks to the use of your name and logo? The primary resource a nonprofit has to offer to a campaign may be its name. Permitting use of your name may seem like a no-brainer, but consider that the excellence and goodwill it represents—which your organization has developed over time with substantial effort—is exactly what your business partner wants to associate with its brand. If your business partner thinks your name is valuable in the marketplace, so should you. Consider also that the loss of your good name can be extremely costly. If your partner’s products or services become associated with fraud or greed or carcinogens, then so may your organization.
3. Will the campaign require you to undertake activities that will divert you from your nonprofit mission? Consider whether you will need to use your resources and staff in ways that are a greater benefit to your business partner than to you.
4. Are there legal compliance requirements associated with the campaign? Massachusetts charitable solicitation laws require you and your business partner to register with the Attorney General prior to commencement of the campaign, to file a written contract setting forth the terms of the campaign, and to prepare and maintain final accountings to demonstrate compliance with regulations. Make sure your partner understands that transparency and regulators are the norm in the nonprofit world, that limits will be placed on the way it can promote its brand, and that you will need to approve promotional materials that bear your name.
Is a cause marketing campaign right for your nonprofit? Engage your organization’s Board and senior staff and make sure the campaign will advance your mission.
Safeguarding Against Fraud at a Not-for-Profit Organization
By Barbara Andrews, CPA, Senior Audit Manager, Kevin P. Martin & Associates, P.C.
Not everyone believes that fraud can happen at their organization. You know your employees and you have shared professional and personal milestones. However, the reality is that fraud does happen, and it could happen to your organization. A 2016 Global Fraud Study issued by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) reported that the median loss for a Not-for-Profit organization was $100,000. For a small not-for-profit organization this is a huge hit to the bottom line and most likely a bigger hit to the organization’s reputation. The cost of fraud is much more than stolen money, a stolen identity or the misreporting of financial statement information. It can cost the organization future funding plus the time and effort expended by employees and the Board to repair the organization’s reputation.
An organization’s control environment is the first line of defense against fraud. When developing internal controls, an organization’s policies typically focus on the major transaction cycles and the areas of information technology/general computer controls, compliance and financial close/reporting. The size of an organization doesn’t matter. The effectiveness of the policies in place to mitigate identified risks is what matters.
An organization’s internal control policies and procedures should be written and made available to all employees. A whistleblower policy should be adopted and employees should be provided with clear instructions on how to report suspected fraudulent activity.
Don’t let the internal control policies collect dust! Just as an unsupervised employee has a higher risk of committing fraud, stale internal control procedures minimize an organization’s ability to detect and prevent fraudulent activity. It is essential that the policies and procedures be assessed for risk at a regular basis. The review requirement could be triggered by a change in environment such as a new program, key staffing change or compliance requirements. There should also be an annual review that focuses on the “what could go wrong” scenarios and the determination of whether the controls are adequate to safeguard against fraud.
Is your organization’s technology environment secure or is it vulnerable to a breach? The internal control environment should also consider and address cybersecurity risks. A cyberattack can impact the organization, its employees and the clients that are being served. Identity theft is a legitimate threat that should be assessed and addressed. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has adopted privacy laws to protect personal information and an organization’s control environment should incorporate the provisions of the privacy laws. A regularly scheduled risk assessment by a qualified IT professional may help to reduce the organization’s exposure to risk in this area.
In summary, as a safeguard against fraud, an organization should design, implement, communicate and monitor its internal control system to determine that the system is functioning as designed. An organization’s internal control system should be thought of as a living breathing document. To be effective, it needs to change with an organization, whether it be due to a change in key personnel, billing system or a merger. The Board should monitor the organization’s internal control procedures and assessments. To assist with its monitoring function, an organization may want to engage a third party to perform a fraud prevention assessment. This assessment includes an assessment of the entity’s information technology/general computer program controls and is designed to highlight possible weaknesses in the internal control structure.
Jay W Vogt and Judy A Ozbun
Founders of EssentialWorth
You’re facing a tough decision, and you’re stuck. You’d love some perspective, but you don’t know how to get it. If only you could see your situation in a new way.
Here’s how we often gain perspective on tough decisions. First we take a step back, and try to see the big picture. Often choices are hard because they bring together two competing and compelling interests, in a dynamic tension, pulling you in different directions. Seeing this tension as creative helps us map the landscape of a challenge, and place our specific choice in its general context. In seeing that context, we often experience insight, and then our decision is made.
Here’s an example of how it works. Let’s say you have to make choices regarding which programs you keep, which you grow, which you add, and which you drop. The competing and compelling interests are mission and revenues. Some programs are closer to the mission core than others. Some programs attract more revenues than others. Thinking about your programs holistically – in this context – means seeing how your program and revenue strategy fit together as a whole, in a sustainable portfolio. That perspective tells you whether the one you’re considering is a fit, or a misfit.
If you are a visual learner, it helps to map out this tension graphically, as an x and y axis in creative tension. Thus we would map the prior example in this way:
|High Revenues||low mission
|Low Revenues||low mission
Seen this way, the insights are immediate.
|High Revenues||grow sparingly to subsidize||grow aggressively|
|Low Revenues||divest or joint venture||the heart and soul of the agency|
We love these two-by-two cell matrices. They are simple yet powerful tools. They help individuals make decisions. And they help teams frame choices for discussion. We love the insights they generate. We introduce a series of graphic decision tools – in this format – online through short videos at our YouTube channel, EssentialWorth Moments. They only take a moment; and they’re essential!
We would love to hear from you:
2016 MNN Annual Conference: Moving Forward for a Better Commonwealth
On November 2, 2016, 600 nonprofit leaders and business professionals gathered for a day of sharing, learning, and networking at MNN’s annual conference Moving Forward for a Better Commonwealth. This year’s conference focused on what it would take for the nonprofit sector to move forward in an ever-evolving social, economic, and political climate. Professionals representing every sub-sector and from every career level came together to draw upon the collective expertise of the entire sector.
The day began as attendees filled the halls outside the ballroom, which were lined with exhibitor tables. Fifty exhibitors featured a variety of products and services, from technology and advocacy to banking and fundraising. The excitement was palpable as business cards were exchanged, and connections were built that would last beyond that day.
The morning event kicked off as Jim Klocke, MNN’s CEO, welcomed attendees to the event and offered encouragement. “You face big challenges every day,” Jim said. “Internal, external, and a lot of both on the hardest days. We have been reminded before, and we do well to remember today, that there is value in taking on these hard challenges.” Jim went on to remind those assembled that, in spite of these challenges, or perhaps because of them, Massachusetts remains poised to lead with its vibrant and engaged nonprofit sector. During the morning program, we also heard from Dr. Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, seasoned entrepreneur and keynote speaker, who offered his perspective on the ways in which Massachusetts nonprofits could continue to move forward. Desh praised the Massachusetts nonprofit sector, saying that “Massachusetts is the capital of the world in nonprofit, both in quality and quantity.”
Throughout the day, there were three workshop breakout sessions where attendees could choose between 31-expert led workshops. The presenters covered a variety of topics, such as proper fundraising techniques, how to tell a brand story, what it means for diversity and inclusion to be the cornerstone of an organization, and so much more. A glance into any of these workshops revealed rapt audiences, knowledgeable speakers, and an atmosphere of engagement and learning.
During the lunchtime program, MNN announced its 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Deborah Cary of Mass Audubon and Michael Maso of the Huntington Theatre Company, both of whom, in their respective fields, have dedicated their careers to improving and strengthening the Commonwealth.
Deborah Cary, who has worked with Mass Audubon for the past 31 years, shared her tips for getting things done, which not only included the practical advice to stretch everyday, get more sleep, and take walks in the park, but also to share credit, be inclusive, thank people, and always remain positive even in the face of adversity. “Look for the good and let the rest die of neglect,” Deb advised.
In his acceptance speech, after assuring his audience that he could not get anyone tickets to Hamilton, Michael Maso also spoke of the importance of positivity in the face of adversity, particularly in today’s charged cultural and political climate. “Empathy is the theater’s great gift and most important product,” Michael said. This empathy and positivity allowed Michael and the Huntington Theatre to negotiate with developers to save their principal theater from destruction and protect it for the next 99 years.
In closing, Jim Klocke praised those gathered for helping to build a network of nonprofits that strengthened the Massachusetts community as a whole. “Our greatest strength as a network is the commitment, creativity, and character you all bring to your work every day,” Jim said, “We want to do everything we can to help advance your work, and in the process make Massachusetts a truer Commonwealth.”
Thank you to our conference sponsors who have made tremendous commitments to strengthening the state’s nonprofit community. A special thank you to our Leadership sponsor Appleton Partners, our Workshop sponsor Cambridge Savings Bank, and our Luncheon sponsor Comcast. In addition, we want to thank everyone who attended our 2016 conference. Our conferences would not be what it is without your energy, support, and commitment to working together to move the Commonwealth forward.
By Diane Remin, President, MajorDonors.com
You asked for a gift. The donor replied, “Let me think about it.”
Don’t negotiate against yourself.
You’ve just presented a donor with a significant opportunity—whatever that means for your organization. You’ve done your homework. You’re optimistic. But expecting an immediate “yes” is not realistic.
“Let me think about it” is a perfectly natural response. Resist the temptation to jump into negotiations or end the visit without learning more.
Be Sherlock Holmes
You want to better understand what the donor is thinking. It may be about the amount – but it also may be the timing or even something about the project, itself. Project/program, amount and timing encompass much of the possible terrain. It is also possible that “Let me think about it” is a brush-off. If it is, you want to know that, too. And by exploring further, you are likely to find out.
The technique is project/program, amount, timing (P.A.T.) PAT yourself on the back to remember it!
Step 1: Acknowledge the reply: “I understand you want to think about this opportunity, Susan.”
Step 2: Project/Program: Confirm that the donor is on board with the project/program. If the donor does not think the opportunity makes sense, game over. That said, it is unlikely that you have arrived at this point only to discover a lack of enthusiasm. Most of the time, your yes/no question about the project/program will have returned the donor to “yes” mode.
Step 3: Amount: Does the amount reflect the type of difference the donor would like to make with this particular opportunity, e.g., “I understand you would like to think it over, Susan, but I’d like to confirm that $25,000/year for four years is the kind of impact you would like to have once you’ve given it some thought.”
Step 4: Timing: Timing issues sound like, “My daughter is getting married, I have two kids in college, I have other commitments, etc.”
Step 5: Do not leave without permission for the next step.
Note: If the donor won’t agree to a specific time for follow-up, you may be getting the brush-off.
Summary: Continue the conversation when a donor says, “Let me think about it.” Your job is to learn more about what is on the donor’s mind. Is it the project, the amount, and/or the timing that is keeping him/her from taking action right now? Solve the issue if you can (it may be that the donor simply needs to think about it—which is fine). Leave with a permission-based next step.
By Kevin Palmer, Chief Operating Officer, Annkissam
Congratulations! You were given the responsibility to overhaul your organization’s approach to knowledge management (KM), including choosing a new tool or system. Several months into the process you make the decision to invest in purchasing a new KM system. You have spent countless hours documenting your exact data needs, working with implementation specialists and, perhaps, engaging a consultant or two to adjust the tool to meet your needs. You have focused nearly exclusively on ensuring the right tool was selected and customized. However, a few weeks after the new system goes live, almost no one at your organization is using it. What happened?
It can be deceptively easy to think that, once you find the right tool, everyone in your organization will see the intrinsic value in posting their information and content. The reality can sometimes be that, without getting buy-in across the organization, your new KM tool can turn into a costly ghost town. Teams or departments may not have seen the benefits in adding their knowledge to the new system. The KM initiative also may not have had executive buy-in at the top of the organization, making it difficult to ask teams to investment time in learning and using the new system without top-down support. There can be a number of critical non-technical, non-system KM considerations that are foundational to your initiative’s success. Below are a few of those considerations that go beyond choosing the right tool: