Tag Archive for Donations

Navigating The Crowded Non-Profit Sector

Nonprofit donors

How organizations can set themselves apart to secure—and retain—donors

By Shannon Crowley, CPA, MSA
Accounting Manager

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 time frame 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:

Differentiating themselves from other, potentially similar organizations

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.

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.

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.

How BlumShapiro Can Help

BlumShapiro offers the accounting, tax and business consulting expertise non-profits need today. We are one of the largest non-profit accounting service providers in New England, our blend of accounting expertise and knowledge of non-profit organizations means we can offer you tremendous added value. We can assist you in complying with state and federal grant requirements, charitable giving rules, capital campaigns, endowment fund responsibilities and other specialized needs. Learn more >>

View Shannon’s Bio Here >>

Donor Acknowledgment – Reminder as the end of the year approaches

iStock_000001334173MediumAs the calendar year end approaches, and we all get ready for 2016, this is to serve as a reminder about the requirements for donor acknowledgments. Many donors wait until the end of the calendar year to make their donations to non-profit organizations in order to receive an individual tax deduction. Management should make sure their procedures around donor acknowledgments are up-to-date and adhere to the IRS requirements.

In brief, a written acknowledgment for all contributions over $250 and for all quid pro quo contributions over $75 are typically required within 60 days after the contribution is received by the organization. For more information: Here is a link to a prior article on this matter as well as the IRS guidelines.

Shannon Crowley Massachusetts CPAShannon Crowley is a manager in BlumShapiro’s Accounting and Auditing Department, based in Quincy, Massachusetts, Shannon oversees audit engagements and is responsible for engagement planning, staff supervision and coordination with client personnel to ensure successful completion of projects. Shannon has worked with clients in a variety of industries, including healthcare, higher education, non-profit, manufacturing and distribution.

Year-End Donation Acknowledgement Reminders

Nonprofit CPA Firm - donation RemindersAs  some donors wait until year end to make their annual contributions to charitable organizations, and there is a push by non-profits to get in these donations, following are a couple reminders on what information needs to be provided to donors related to these donations:

  • A written acknowledgement for all contributions over $250 (while some organizations will provide an acknowledgement letter for all contributions, this is the minimum requirement).
  • A written acknowledgement to a donor for a quid pro quo contribution over $75.  A quid pro quo contribution is an amount received by a charity that is partly for goods or services and partly a contribution.  This acknowledgement needs to break out the value of the goods or services that the individual received.

Required acknowledgements must be contemporaneous, typically within 60 days after the organization receives the donation.

Here is a link to a prior article on this matter as well as the IRS guidelines.

Michelle Hatch is a partner in our Non-Profit Services Group. She oversees audit and accounting engagements for non-profit organizations, including independent schools, trade associations, health and human service organizations and art, cultural and membership organizations. Michelle is also a member of the Employee Benefit Assurance Group and oversees audits for 401(k), 403(b) and defined benefit retirement plans.

Cultivating a Relationship Between the Finance and Development Offices

It is not uncommon for the relationship between the finance and development offices at non-profit organizations to be strained or non-existent. Yet this relationship is probably one of the most important within a non-profit organization, especially for those organizations that rely heavily on donations and grants. Poor communication between these two offices can result in the improper receiving and handling of contributions and, ultimately, lost funding and upset donors.

Effective two-way communication is vital to cultivating the relationship between the finance and development offices. Below are specific situations in which communication is important:


Most organizations have two independent systems that track contributions, one used by the development office and one used by the finance office. Also the treatment used by each office to track contributions can be different, resulting in variances when comparing reports for the same time period from one system to the other. If the two systems are not reconciled, this can be very confusing to a finance committee or management when reviewing the reports. Therefore, it is important that a reconciliation between the two systems is completed monthly, or at least quarterly. Monthly reconciliations will enable the two offices to ensure that there are no errors (such as incorrect, duplicate, late or missed postings) and confirm that the reports are complete and accurate. The only reconciling items should be the differences in treatment of the contributions.

Reconciling the two systems requires cooperation and good communication between the development and finance offices. In order for a reconciliation to be completed, the two offices must first understand the underlying differences in the treatment of various types of contributions. There could be several differences. For example, when a verbal pledge is received, the development office will usually record the pledge; however, the finance office might not record a pledge unless it is agreed to formally in writing, or if it is contingent upon an event or a matching contribution. Once these differences are understood, the two offices should then work collectively to reconcile the reports. The two systems should be set up so that they are in alignment with each other as much as possible (for example, having the same tracking number for each type of contribution, e.g. annual fund, endowment), which will assist with the reconciliation process.

Restricted Donations and Grants

Many times, only the development office is involved during the beginning stages of a grant. Not involving the finance office early in the process could result in important deadlines being missed, restrictions being broken and, the worst case situation, the funding falling through. It is important that, during the RFP stages, the development office communicates to the finance office any deadlines for reporting requirements and details on any restrictions. This will enable the two offices to work together to evaluate the opportunity, prepare a proposal budget (or complete any other necessary paperwork or reporting requirement) and ensure that the restrictions meet the goals and fiscal needs of the organization. The finance office will also need to adequately understand the restrictions for financial statement reporting purposes and to ensure the funds are spent in accordance with the restriction and the proper information is tracked for reporting purposes.  

Campaigns and Pledges

Likewise, with restricted contributions, the development office should involve the finance office, senior management and the board in the beginning stages of a campaign for funds. In particular, the offices should work together and agree on the purpose of the campaign to ensure that any restrictions on the funds are in accordance with the goals and fiscal needs of the organization. 

When pledges are made, the development office should communicate the details (donor, amount, restrictions, timing of the pledge, as well as verbal or written) to the finance office as soon as possible. It is important that the finance office records the pledges in the correct fiscal year and spends the funds in accordance with the restriction.

Effective two-way communication requires the willingness of the personnel within both the development and finance offices. Both offices should be proactive and seek out necessary information, rather than waiting or assuming the other office will communicate the information. Scheduling frequent meetings between the two offices is also recommended. Agenda discussion items can include new grant opportunities, new campaign initiatives, reporting requirements and other topics. While both the development and finance offices are essential to a non-profit organization, the two offices working together collectively is invaluable.

For more information, please contact Shannon Crowley at scrowley@blumshapiro.com or 781-610-1245.

Shannon Crowley Massachusetts CPAShannon Crowley is a manager in BlumShapiro’s Accounting and Auditing Department, based in Quincy, Massachusetts, Shannon oversees audit engagements and is responsible for engagement planning, staff supervision and coordination with client personnel to ensure successful completion of projects. Shannon has worked with clients in a variety of industries, including healthcare, higher education, non-profit, manufacturing and distribution.