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Self-Dealing

Four Ratios That Can Help You Make Sense Of The Numbers

It should come as no surprise that you have to keep an eye on the numbers to monitor your non-profit’s expenses and improve operating efficiency. But which measures are important? How can you identify how much currently goes toward programming (as opposed to administration), how much you spend on fundraising (compared to funds raised), and how much your non-profit needs in operating reserves? Here are four ratios that can help you make sense of the numbers.

Key Measures
In general, these four key ratios should be regularly monitored:

  1. Percentage spent on program activities. This ratio gives you a good idea of how much of your total budget is used to provide direct services. To calculate this ratio, divide your total program service expenses by total expenses. Higher than 65% is widely considered to be good, and 85% and above is usually excellent.
  2. Percentage spent on fundraising. To calculate this number, divide total fundraising expenses by contributions. The standard benchmark for fundraising and administrative expenses is 35%.
  3. Current ratio. This measure represents your non-profit’s ability to pay its bills. It provides a snapshot of financial conditions at any given time. To calculate, divide current assets by current liabilities. Generally, this ratio shouldn’t be less than 1:1.
  4. Reserve ratio. Is your organization able to sustain programs and services during temporary revenue and expense fluctuations? The key is having sufficient expendable net assets.

To calculate your non-profit’s reserve ratio, divide expendable net assets (unrestricted and temporarily restricted net assets less net investment in property and equipment and less any nonexpendable components) by one day’s expenses (total annual expenses divided by 365).

For most organizations, this number should be between 90 and 180 days. Base your target on the nature of your operations, your program commitments, and the predictability of funding sources.

For example, let’s say you rely on a handful of grantors and large donors to fund programming. If your non-profit unexpectedly lost one or two of these funding sources, it would probably be in a tight spot. So, keep expendable net assets that would cover closer to 180 days’ expenses in reserve.

Evaluate Them Correctly
Not every non-profit leader is fluent in accounting. To help ensure you’re looking at the right ratios, evaluating them correctly given your organization’s specific characteristics, and making smart decisions based on the numbers, contact us for assistance.

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