Five Simple Steps to a Better Non-Profit Budget

Preparing your non-profit’s annual budget is probably one of the least appealing parts of your job. Here is how to make the process a little less painful.

  1. Count your chickens. Before you start allocating resources, figure out what they are. This includes not only the amount of your income, but its nature. Remember that restricted or planned gifts are not necessarily available for spending
  2. Get with the program — costs. With the input of staff and board members, determine the costs of current programs and what your non-profit expects to offer in the next year. Be careful not to underestimate needs. Make necessary adjustments to the previous year’s expenses for inflation and other higher costs that may disproportionately affect your non-profit.
  3. Pay attention to other expenses. List your direct expenses, breaking them down into specific line items. Payroll is probably the largest item — likely at least 50 percent of total expenses. Add to current salaries any expected salary increases and payroll taxes and benefits. Other direct costs may include rent, utilities, supplies, equipment maintenance, insurance, contracted services, and transportation.

Account for indirect expenses as well. These benefit multiple programs, such as costs related to payroll for business management, recordkeeping, and financial reporting. You may have to allocate salaries for certain positions to several categories.

  1. Play with the numbers. What you have at this point is a rough draft. You will need to make at least some adjustments to your numbers, assumptions, and plans before getting to where your staff and board want to be; whether that means you break even, spend from reserves earned in prior years, or plan for a surplus.

Be sure to compare your budget to last year’s and to the actual results, paying attention to large variances. An unanticipated, one-time event might explain going over budget. But if you routinely overspend, you probably need to be more realistic about your income and expenses.

5. Ask for direction. Do not hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it. Your board members may be able to help you prepare an effective budget. If you are uncertain, contact us. After all, your annual budget is one of the keys to current and long-term financial stability.

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