Views & Analysis from our Experts
bd-blog-hd-hires2.png

Accounting 101 for Development Directors: Five Things to Know

Good fundraising and good accounting do not always seamlessly align. While they all feed the same mission, fundraisers work to meet revenue goals while accountants focus on recording transactions in compliance with accounting standards. We often see development department totals reported to boards that are not in line with annual financial statements, causing confusion and concern. To bridge this information gap, here are five accounting concepts every not-for-profit fundraiser should know:

1. GAAP Accounting: Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) refers to a common set of accounting standards and procedures. There are as many ways for a donor to structure a gift as there are donors―GAAP provides a common foundation for when and how you should record these gifts.
2. Pledges: Under GAAP, if there is a true, unconditional “promise to give,” you should record the total pledge as revenue in the current year (with a little present value discounting thrown in the mix for payments expected in future periods). A conditional pledge relies on a specific event happening in the future (think matching gift) and is not considered revenue until that condition is met. (See more on pledges and matching gifts here.) 
3. Intentions: We sometimes see donors indicating they “intend” to donate a certain amount in the future. An intention on its own is not considered a true unconditional promise under GAAP, and isn’t recorded as revenue. This has a big impact with planned giving as we often see bequests recorded as revenue by the development department in the year the organization is named in the will of the donor—while the accounting guidance specifically identifies bequests as intentions to give that would generally not be recorded by the finance team until the will has been declared valid by the probate court.
4. Restrictions: Donors often impose restrictions on some contributions, limiting the use of that gift to a specific time, program, or purpose. Usually, a gift like this arrives with some explicit communication from donors, noting how they want to apply the gift. A gift can also be considered restricted to a specific project if it is made in direct response to a solicitation for that project. The donor restriction does not generally determine when to record the gift but how to record it, as these contributions are tracked separately.
5. Gifts vs. Exchange: New accounting guidance has been released that provides more clarity on when a gift or grant is truly a contribution and when it might be an exchange transaction. Contact us if you have any questions.


Understanding the differences in how the development department and finance department track these gifts will allow for better reporting to the board throughout the year—and fewer surprises when you present financial statements at the end of the year. Stay tuned for parts two and three of our contribution series. Have questions? Please contact Emily Parker of Sarah Belliveau.


Leave a comment

STAY CONNECTED