The Financial Statements of Nonprofits

A better way to compare the stability and success of nonprofit organizations.


I spent some time last week reviewing Common Size Financial Statements.  Investopedia defines these statements as “A company financial statement that displays all items as percentages of a common base figure. This type of financial statement allows for easy analysis between companies or between time periods of a company”.  Therefore, by using common size financials, one great benefit is that a person can review a company’s financial status in comparison with another company even if those companies are not comparable in other ways.

This is helpful if the companies you are comparing are of different sizes, are at different levels of maturity (in regards to years established) or if you want to look at a particular company’s financials during a time of economic stability vs. say, 2 days after 9/11/2001.  The ability to review companies’ financials and compare them is more easily accessible for publicly traded companies.  There are many online and print options to review such information.  It becomes harder when we are trying to compare privately held companies and nonprofit organizations.  The information is not as easily accessible.

In the nonprofit world, our most accessible and standardized method to review finances is the IRS Form 990.  But not all nonprofits are required to complete it and it is not as thorough as the principal financial statements (Balance Sheet, Income Statement and Cash Flow Statement).  So what do we do if we want to compare the financial stability of different nonprofits?  Or if we want to know the impact of a large homeless shelter that has been in the community for 30 years vs. that of a small organization that provides after-school programs to at-risk kids that is in its 5th year of existence (but seems to have great potential)?

What if we became more detailed and structured about standardizing our ‘bottom lines’?  If we standardize the impact/outcome measures of nonprofits, we could better assess their success and the impact that they are making in the communities that they serve.  For example, what if we could:

  1. Monitor the financial viability, organizational efficiency, staff/volunteer/Board satisfaction, client satisfaction as well as donor/funder satisfaction (with measures of each) of all nonprofit organizations?
  2. Create consistent outcome measures for each sector/population of nonprofits so that we are looking at the same categories (based on #1 so that we are measuring the things that have the most impact)?
  3. Base these outcome measures (#2) on evidence based practices as well as research to show how programming affects the populations that are served?

Then, each ‘type’ of nonprofit could have approximately 10 main outcome measures (based on the above) that must be documented and published for funders, donors and the general public.




What if?…

Jeanne Ward is a Consultant and Personal Strategist who brings her knowledge of psychology, strategy and personal fulfillment to her current work. Jeanne started her career by helping mentally ill inmates to ‘get their lives back on track’ as they integrated back into society from jail in NYC. She leveraged this experience with a Social Work degree to manage teams who were supporting people trying to move back into the workforce. She later lived in Atlanta, GA and Frankfurt, Germany where she began consulting with nonprofit organizations to guide them on their strategy, volunteer development, and organizational development as well as to support the development of their leaders and board of directors. After the jolt of a divorce, Jeanne found herself doing a lot of soul-searching. Digging deep, she arrived at a new-found appreciation for herself and the world around her. This journey taught her that when we start with improving ourselves, the benefits multiply. Jeanne realized that her strengths of strategic thinking, relationship building, and implementation planning could be combined into her ongoing passion of personal leadership. Hence, her personal strategy work was born. Jeanne helps men and women between the ages of 35 and 55 who are fed up with their corporate jobs to create fulfilling professional and personal lives through the development of a personal strategic plan. This work ensures that her clients identify their professional and personal goals as well as create a plan to make those goals a reality. Jeanne is also the Executive Director of the Atlanta Road Trotters Kid’s Running Club, a nonprofit organization that provides a platform for children to build a foundation of running health and fitness which leads to a better connection to the organized running community as well as a strong foundation of Discipline, Self-Esteem, Respect and Team Work. She has also co-authored a workbook on networking, founded and organized the National Association of Social Workers-Georgia-sponsored ‘Social Service Career Network’ and organized a summit for the National Alliance for Mentally Ill attended by over 100 organizations from 6 Atlanta counties. Previously, she sat on the board of NASW GA as their Secretary as well as on the board of NAMI GA/DeKalb as their Co-President, was a senior consultant for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and helped to run a capital campaign for an independent school. Jeanne has an MSW from Hunter School of Social Work (City University of New York), an MA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York) and a BA in Psychology from Emory University. Jeanne lives in Atlanta with her ten-year-old son.

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