By Heather Young
The person asking the question reported that her not-for-profit agency has an operating budget of about $300,000, but each year secures about $200,000 more in donated goods and services. She’s been struggling for years with how to reflect this appropriately to her donors and funders – particularly given an accountant who doesn’t understand the issues and can’t provide the advice she needs.
That seems like a good place to start. A chartered accountant with not-for-profit expertise is a tremendous resource when it comes to measurement, reporting and disclosure issues such as this. The not-for-profit sector has specific accounting needs, and having the right expertise on board is crucial to getting the best financial advice and reporting.
The reporting – or not – of in-kind donations in your financial statements is a matter of accounting policy. You – with advice from your accountant – need to develop the best policy framework for your organization. Here’s what the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants offers as guidance:
“Donations-in-kind also present accounting considerations that require judgment. If the accounting policy is to record donations-in-kind, a contribution of goods or services may be recognized in the financial statements when a fair value can be reasonably estimated and when the donated goods or services would otherwise have been purchased. Fair value would be estimated using market or appraisal values at the date of the donation.”
(From A Guide to Financial Statements of Not-For-Profit Organizations, available online.)
Can you substantiate the fair market value of the donations? That tends to be relatively easy for physical objects, much harder for services/pro bono work/volunteer time. Because of this measurement difficulty, an accountant might steer you away from including in-kind gifts in your financials – or they might agree with reflecting tangible gifts but advise against trying to quantify volunteer time and other services.
If your policy is not to include the value of in-kind donations in your statements, you should be able to find other avenues for conveying the full scope and impact of your organization. For instance, you might discuss with your accountant the appropriateness of a detailed note to your financial statements describing the in-kind support you receive.
You could also look at the different types of financial reports you produce. Your formally prepared audit may not capture in-kind gifts, but you might also present to donors and funders a supplementary statement that adds the value of in-kind items to your formal statements.
An annual report could provide an avenue for describing these resources and what they mean for your organization’s work. Annual reports often contain photos, graphs, charts and other illustrations that add impact to your description.
The area of social accounting tries to get to grips with this issue – an important one for many nonprofits, because cash transactions reflect only a portion of our economic activity. Here are a couple of links to publications that might help by discussing the accounting issues and proposing practical solutions:
- What Counts: Social Accounting for Nonprofits and Cooperatives
- Estimating and Reporting the Value of Volunteer Contributions
On the whole, it’s to your advantage to reflect all the value you can within your organization. However, it’s also important to know the government regulations and generally accepted accounting principles that guide the reporting of this information.