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The Role of Financial Transparency in Cultivating Donor Relationships for Nonprofits

Why does financial transparency matter? In the nonprofit sector, financial transparency is foundational to building trust and credibility. Donors invest their time, money, and resources, and expect their investments to be used effectively and responsibly. Financial transparency is vital for establishing the following:

  • Donor Trust: Transparent financial practices foster trust between the nonprofit and its donors. When donors see how funds are used, they are more likely to continue supporting the organization.
  • Compliance and Accountability: Transparency ensures compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, preventing potential legal issues and promoting accountability.
  • Enhanced Donor Engagement: Donors are more engaged when they understand the impact of their contributions. Transparency allows them to see the difference their support makes.

Financial Transparency Key Practices

There are numerous ways nonprofits can practice sound financial transparency, and the way these are carried out from one nonprofit organization to another will vary. Five key practices for financial transparency that all organizations should consider are as follows:

Financial Reporting

Nonprofits should prepare and publish their financial statements regularly for donors to view. These reports should be posted to their website and distributed in their annual report. To increase transparency, Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 958-720 (and the IRS 990, in some cases) requires nonprofits to report expenses by function. All expenses must be broken out between program activities, management and general, and fundraising. This keeps nonprofits accountable to their donors and provides donors with a simple way to see how funds are being used in addition to the expense’s natural classification.

Additionally, it is important for nonprofits to clearly communicate their financial policies. Resources that explain how the nonprofit manages, invests, and spends its funds should be easily accessible to donors. Donors should also have access to policies around the use of reserve funds and endowments. Providing a clear and straightforward summary of financial information can help donors who may not be considered financially sophisticated.

Budgeting

Nonprofits should provide detailed budgets that delineate how funds are allocated and spent. Budgets should break out specific programs as well as operating costs. Regular communications with budget versus actual performance will show donors where their contributions are being used, thus gaining their trust. This can easily be incorporated into a nonprofit’s annual report.

Program Impact Reports

Donors want to see the tangible impact of their contributions. Nonprofits should provide detailed reports on the impact of their programs and how donor contributions were used to achieve these results. This should include success stories, metrics, and data that highlight the effectiveness of the nonprofit’s programs.

Audits

Annual audits conducted by an independent CPA firm increase the credibility of the financial reporting practices described above. Audits provide reasonable assurance as to the accuracy of the financial statements and assist in adherence to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), such as accounting for contributions and properly tracking donor restricted funds. Sharing audit results with donors exhibits a commitment to accountability and transparency.

Open Communication Channels

Lastly, nonprofits should actively create open lines of communication where donors are able to ask questions and receive prompt, transparent responses. Newsletters, emails, and donor meetings are ways to keep donors informed and engaged.

In conclusion, financial transparency is not just a compliance obligation but an essential strategic initiative for nonprofit organizations. When consistently prioritized, financial transparency can create sustained donor engagement which leads to organizational success.

If you have questions about the information outlined above, please contact us; our seasoned and experienced nonprofit professionals are here to help. You can also learn more about our nonprofit services by visiting our Nonprofit industry page.

About the Author

Luke Brautigam

Luke joined McKonly & Asbury in June 2021 as an intern and returned as a full-time team member in August 2022. Luke is currently a Senior Accountant with the firm. He is a member of the firm’s Audit & Assurance Segment, servicing clients in the nonprofit and affordable housing industries.

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