September 29, 2012
(The following post by Aaron Hurst, president of the Taproot Foundation, was adapted from Powered by Pro Bono: The Nonprofits Step-by-Step Guide to Scoping, Securing, Managing, and Scaling Pro Bono Resources. In his previous post, Hurst weighed in on the value of "pre-mortems.")
Nonprofit economics differ pretty significantly from the for-profit kind. For one thing, tools like a balance sheet or a profit-and-loss statement don't carry nearly as much weight in a not-for-profit setting as they do in the business world. Nonprofit organizations also have to follow specific rules and regulations related to their tax-exempt status. Despite these differences, nonprofits are learning how to boost their capacity and effectiveness by engaging accounting and finance professionals in their work. The fact that there are some 1.8 million accounting and finance professionals in the U.S., and that many of them are looking for ways to make an impact in their communities, is a huge plus for the sector.
With that in mind, here are five things finance and accounting professionals often are willing to do for nonprofits on a pro-bono basis:
1. Program-cost analysis. A program-cost-analysis project identifies the cost initiatives a nonprofit must define in order to answer a pressing strategic question. The first phase of any such project involves an in-depth examination of an organization's current finances to tease out cost factors relevant to those initiatives. After that, a comprehensive report which clearly lays out the full costs of taking on a particular initiative is prepared.
2. Internal financial controls assessment. Rigorous assessment of an organization's financial controls ensures that it is consistently recording financial transactions in an accurate fashion. These controls also help to minimize risk, including employee theft. The first step in developing an effective internal controls system is to identify areas where abuses or errors are likely to occur. Many accountants can provide you with a checklist of these areas, as well as questions to consider when you are planning your system.