How to Read a Nonprofit Statement of Activities

How to Read a Nonprofit Statement of Activities

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Overview of the Importance of a Statement of Activities in Understanding a Nonprofit’s Financial Health

In this article, we’ll cover how to read a nonprofit statement of activities. For nonprofit organizations, transparency and accountability are not just regulatory requirements but are vital for gaining and maintaining the trust of donors, members, and stakeholders. A clear understanding of a nonprofit’s financial health is crucial for these entities to effectively manage resources, plan for the future, and communicate their financial status to interested parties. The Statement of Activities is a fundamental tool in this process, serving as a comprehensive report that provides a snapshot of the organization’s financial activities over a specific period.

This financial statement is crucial for various reasons. First, it helps nonprofit leaders make informed strategic decisions by showing where funds are coming from and how they are being spent. Second, it allows nonprofits to demonstrate their financial accountability and efficiency to donors, granting organizations, and other stakeholders. Effective use of this statement can thus not only support operational and strategic management but also enhance fundraising efforts by reinforcing the credibility of the organization.

Brief Explanation of What a Statement of Activities Is and Its Role in Nonprofit Accounting

The Statement of Activities in nonprofit accounting is akin to an income statement used in for-profit businesses, but with some key distinctions that reflect the unique goals and structure of nonprofits. Unlike for-profit businesses that aim to maximize profits for shareholders, nonprofits focus on fulfilling their mission while responsibly managing their finances.

The Statement of Activities provides detailed information about all the revenues received and expenses incurred by the nonprofit. It differs notably in its presentation of net assets, categorized into unrestricted, temporarily restricted, and permanently restricted funds. This classification is critical as it helps stakeholders understand the constraints on the organization’s resources and how these constraints affect the nonprofit’s capacity to utilize funds for various purposes.

Moreover, the statement plays a crucial role in nonprofit accounting by not only tracking the inflows and outflows of funds but also by demonstrating compliance with designated fund usage, which is often stipulated by donors or grant-making bodies. It is a dynamic tool that, beyond mere compliance, aids in strategic planning and internal management by providing a clear view of financial outcomes and operational effectiveness.

The Statement of Activities is essential for the robust financial management of a nonprofit. It allows stakeholders to assess whether the organization is on a solid financial footing and aligned effectively with its stated mission and goals. By understanding and utilizing this tool, nonprofit leaders can enhance both their strategic decision-making and their accountability to donors, volunteers, and the communities they serve.

Understanding the Basics

Definition and Purpose of the Statement of Activities

The Statement of Activities is one of the core financial statements used in nonprofit accounting. It provides a detailed overview of the organization’s financial transactions over a specific period, typically a fiscal year. This statement records all revenues, gains, expenses, and losses, reflecting the changes in net assets as a result of operational activities. Its primary purpose is to offer a clear, comprehensive view of how funds are being used and generated, ensuring that a nonprofit remains accountable and transparent to its donors, members, and other stakeholders.

The Statement of Activities is pivotal for several reasons:

  • Transparency: It shows how funds are raised and spent, highlighting financial stewardship.
  • Compliance: It helps ensure that funds are used in accordance with donor restrictions and regulatory requirements.
  • Management: It provides critical data that nonprofit managers use for strategic planning and operational adjustments.
  • Fundraising: It supports efforts to secure funding by demonstrating financial health and accountability to potential funders.

Key Differences Between a Statement of Activities and a For-Profit Income Statement

While the Statement of Activities in nonprofit organizations serves a similar purpose to the income statement in for-profit businesses, there are significant differences tailored to the specific nature of nonprofit operations:

  1. Presentation of Net Assets:
    • For-profit income statement: Focuses on profitability, showing revenues minus expenses to highlight net income or loss.
    • Nonprofit Statement of Activities: Focuses on the changes in net assets, categorized into unrestricted, temporarily restricted, and permanently restricted funds. This categorization is crucial as it reflects the availability and limitations on the use of funds according to donor restrictions.
  2. Revenue Recognition:
    • For-profit income statement: Revenue is recognized based on sales of goods or services.
    • Nonprofit Statement of Activities: Revenue includes donations, grants, membership fees, and other fundraising activities, often recognized when pledges are made, not necessarily when cash is received.
  3. Focus on Mission versus Profit:
    • For-profit income statement: The primary goal is to demonstrate profitability and enhance shareholder value.
    • Nonprofit Statement of Activities: The focus is on how well the organization is advancing its mission through the effective use of resources, rather than on generating profit.
  4. Functional Expenses:
    • For-profit income statement: Expenses are typically grouped by nature (e.g., salaries, rent, utilities).
    • Nonprofit Statement of Activities: Expenses are also reported by function, such as program services, administrative costs, and fundraising efforts, which illustrates how expenses relate to fulfilling the nonprofit’s mission.

These distinctions highlight the different financial dynamics and objectives between nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses. Understanding these differences is essential for anyone involved in the financial management, oversight, or analysis of a nonprofit entity.

Components of the Statement of Activities


In the Statement of Activities for a nonprofit, the revenue section details all the sources of income that the organization has received during a specified period. These revenues are crucial for the operation and sustainability of the nonprofit and can be categorized into several types:

  1. Donations: These are contributions received from individuals, corporations, or other entities without any goods or services being exchanged. Donations can be monetary or in-kind (such as goods or services donated to the organization).
  2. Grants: Funds received from governmental bodies, foundations, or other organizations specifically for funding certain projects or operations. Grants are typically tied to certain conditions or project outcomes that must be fulfilled.
  3. Service Fees: For some nonprofits, especially those that provide direct services, fees may be charged for services rendered. These fees are often scaled based on the client’s ability to pay.
  4. Membership Fees: Many nonprofits have membership programs that require dues. These fees can provide a steady income stream and often come with benefits to members.
  5. Fundraising Events: Income generated from events organized by the nonprofit, such as galas, walks, or charity auctions. These events can also serve as important marketing and community engagement tools.
  6. Investment Income: Revenues generated from investments held by the nonprofit. These can include dividends, interest income, and capital gains.

Explanation of Restricted vs. Unrestricted Funds

One of the key features of nonprofit accounting reflected in the Statement of Activities is the classification of funds into restricted and unrestricted categories:

  • Unrestricted Funds: These are revenues that can be used for any of the organization’s general purposes. Unrestricted funds provide the flexibility to allocate resources where they are most needed and are critical for the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit.
  • Temporarily Restricted Funds: These funds are to be used in a manner specified by the donor. Restrictions could be purpose-specific (e.g., to fund a particular program) or time-specific (e.g., funds not available for use until a certain date). Once the conditions of the restriction are met, these funds are reclassified as unrestricted in the Statement of Activities.
  • Permanently Restricted Funds: These are funds that must be maintained indefinitely, often in the form of an endowment. The principal amount cannot be spent, but any income generated from investing these funds can be used according to the donor’s restrictions.

Understanding and managing these types of funds correctly is crucial for compliance with accounting standards and donor requirements. It also ensures that the nonprofit maintains its financial health and capacity to continue serving its mission effectively. The way these funds are reported in the Statement of Activities helps provide clear insight into the financial constraints and capabilities of the organization.


In the Statement of Activities, the expenses of a nonprofit organization are detailed and classified according to their function. This classification not only fulfills accounting standards but also provides critical information to stakeholders about how resources are being utilized to support the organization’s mission. The main categories of expenses in nonprofit accounting are:

  1. Program Services: These are expenses directly related to fulfilling the nonprofit’s mission. For example, a nonprofit focused on education would include costs related to teaching, educational materials, and student services under this category. This is often seen as the most crucial expense category, as it directly correlates to the organization’s primary objectives.
  2. Administrative: These expenses are necessary for the overall operation and management of the nonprofit but are not directly tied to specific program services. This category includes salaries of executive staff, office expenses, and general organizational operations.
  3. Fundraising: Expenses incurred in the process of raising funds, such as costs associated with organizing fundraising events, marketing, and advertising, and the salaries of fundraising staff. This category is essential for ensuring the nonprofit can attract the resources needed to fund its mission.

Importance of Expense Allocation and Its Impact on the Nonprofit’s Efficiency

Proper allocation of expenses among these categories is vital for several reasons:

  • Transparency and Accountability: Accurate expense allocation helps maintain transparency by clearly showing how funds are being used, which is crucial for maintaining trust with donors, members, and regulatory bodies.
  • Budgeting and Management: Understanding how expenses are distributed across different functions helps management in effective budgeting and resource allocation. It provides insights into potential areas for cost-saving without compromising on the quality of program delivery.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Nonprofits must adhere to specific guidelines regarding expense reporting, especially when it comes to how restricted funds are used. Proper allocation ensures compliance with these guidelines and helps avoid legal or financial repercussions.
  • Evaluation of Nonprofit Efficiency: Donors and stakeholders often assess a nonprofit’s efficiency by looking at the ratio of program expenses to total expenses. A higher proportion of spending on program services (as opposed to administrative or fundraising costs) is typically viewed favorably, indicating that the organization is effectively using its resources to achieve its mission.
  • Decision Making: Detailed insight into how expenses are allocated allows organizational leaders to make informed decisions about operational adjustments and strategic planning. It helps identify successful initiatives that should be expanded and areas where efficiency can be improved.

The way expenses are categorized and reported in the Statement of Activities is not merely a matter of financial recording but a reflection of the nonprofit’s operational priorities and efficiency. This section of the Statement of Activities plays a crucial role in how the organization is perceived by external parties and how it manages its internal operations to maximize impact on its mission.

Net Assets

Net assets represent the residual interest in the assets of a nonprofit organization after deducting its liabilities. In simpler terms, net assets are what the organization owns minus what it owes. This key financial metric provides insight into the financial health and sustainability of the nonprofit. Net assets are classified into three main categories within the Statement of Activities:

  1. Unrestricted Net Assets: These assets are not subject to donor-imposed restrictions and can be used at the discretion of the organization’s management for any purpose. These funds are crucial for the day-to-day operations and for meeting unexpected expenses as they provide the most flexibility.
  2. Temporarily Restricted Net Assets: These assets are subject to specific restrictions placed by donors that limit their use to particular purposes or time frames. For example, a donation might be received with the stipulation that it is to be used for a building project or to fund a specific research project. Once the stipulated purpose or time frame is fulfilled, these assets are reclassified as unrestricted.
  3. Permanently Restricted Net Assets: These are funds that donors have stipulated must be maintained permanently. Typically, these are endowment funds where the principal amount must remain intact, and only the income generated from investing these funds can be used, often for specified purposes.

How Changes in Net Assets Reflect the Organization’s Financial Status Over the Period

The Statement of Activities provides a detailed account of how net assets change over a fiscal period. Changes in net assets are crucial indicators of a nonprofit’s financial health and sustainability. Here’s how these changes can reflect the organization’s financial status:

  • Increase in Unrestricted Net Assets: An increase indicates a positive financial performance and greater flexibility. It suggests that the nonprofit has managed to generate more revenue than expenses in its core operations and can invest in future growth or save for financial stability.
  • Use of Temporarily Restricted Assets: When temporarily restricted assets decrease due to their reclassification to unrestricted after meeting donor conditions, it reflects successful adherence to donor stipulations and the organization’s effectiveness in managing and utilizing earmarked funds.
  • Growth in Permanently Restricted Net Assets: An increase here shows successful fundraising efforts in securing endowments, which can strengthen long-term financial stability by providing ongoing income.

Conversely, a decrease in net assets, particularly unrestricted ones, can be a warning sign of financial distress, indicating that the nonprofit may be spending more than it is taking in. This could lead to cuts in programs, staff, and other critical areas if not addressed.

Analyzing changes in net assets allows stakeholders to assess whether the nonprofit is growing, sustaining, or depleting its financial resources and to make informed decisions regarding their continued investment or involvement in the organization. The net asset section of the Statement of Activities is thus not just a reflection of past and present financial status but also a guide to potential future challenges and opportunities.

Analyzing a Statement of Activities

How to Use the Statement of Activities to Assess Financial Health and Stability

The Statement of Activities is a critical tool for assessing the financial health and stability of a nonprofit organization. This statement, when read carefully, provides a clear picture of how well the organization manages its finances and fulfills its mission. Here are key aspects to consider when using the Statement of Activities for financial assessment:

  • Review of Revenue Sources: Evaluate the diversity and sustainability of revenue sources. A healthy nonprofit should not rely excessively on a single source but rather have a mix of donations, grants, service fees, and other income streams. Stability in revenue sources suggests financial health and reduces risk.
  • Expense Analysis: Look at the total expenses and how they are allocated across program services, administrative costs, and fundraising. A high percentage of expenses directed towards program services is typically seen as a positive indicator of organizational effectiveness.
  • Change in Net Assets: Examine whether net assets have increased or decreased over the period. An increase in unrestricted net assets generally indicates good financial health as it suggests surplus funds are available for future use.

Tips on Identifying Financial Trends and Potential Areas of Concern

Identifying trends over time in the Statement of Activities can help uncover patterns that might require attention or corrective action:

  • Trend Lines: Establish trend lines for key figures such as total revenues, total expenses, and each category of net assets over multiple years. Sharp fluctuations or a continuous decline in any of these areas might signal underlying issues.
  • Expense Ratios: Calculate ratios such as the expense to revenue ratio or administrative expenses to total expenses. Ratios that deviate significantly from industry norms or show unfavorable trends (like increasing administrative costs) might indicate inefficiencies.
  • Funding Reliance: Monitor the reliance on different revenue streams. Increasing dependence on temporary grants or single donors can pose a risk if those sources become unavailable.

Comparison Techniques for Annual Statements to Track Progress and Challenges

Comparative analysis of annual Statements of Activities can offer valuable insights into how the organization is progressing toward its financial goals and identifying operational challenges:

  • Year-to-Year Comparisons: Compare this year’s Statement of Activities with those of previous years to highlight growth trends, stability, or volatility in revenues and expenses. This can help in understanding the long-term sustainability of the organization.
  • Benchmarking: Compare the nonprofit’s financial ratios and trends with those of similar organizations. Benchmarking against peers can help identify areas where the organization is performing well or underperforming.
  • Projected vs. Actuals: Compare actual figures with the budgeted or projected figures for the same period. Variances can indicate areas where the organization is not meeting its financial expectations, prompting a need for adjustment.
  • Ratio Analysis: Use financial ratios like the current ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities) to assess liquidity or the debt-to-equity ratio to understand financial leverage. These ratios can provide quick insights into financial health and stability.

By employing these analytical techniques, stakeholders can gain a deeper understanding of the nonprofit’s financial status, enabling more informed strategic decisions and better financial planning. This analysis not only helps in maintaining financial stability but also supports the organization’s capability to fulfill its mission effectively over the long term.

Case Study Example

Walkthrough of a Sample Statement of Activities

To illustrate how to read and analyze a Statement of Activities, let’s consider a hypothetical nonprofit organization, “Community Health Initiatives” (CHI), which focuses on providing health services to underserved populations. The following are excerpts from CHI’s Statement of Activities for the fiscal year ending 2023:


  • Donations: $200,000
  • Government Grants: $500,000
  • Service Fees: $300,000
  • Fundraising Events: $100,000
  • Investment Income: $50,000
  • Total Revenues: $1,150,000


  • Program Services: $800,000
  • Administrative: $150,000
  • Fundraising: $100,000
  • Total Expenses: $1,050,000

Change in Net Assets

  • Net Assets at Beginning of Year: $400,000
  • Net Assets at End of Year: $500,000

Analysis of Hypothetical Nonprofit Financial Data

Revenues Analysis:

  • CHI’s revenues are well-diversified, with significant contributions from grants, service fees, and donations, reducing its dependency on any single source. The inclusion of service fees suggests that CHI is partially self-sustaining, an important factor for long-term financial health.

Expenses Analysis:

  • The majority of expenses are allocated to program services (76%), indicating that CHI is effectively using its funds to support its mission. Administrative and fundraising expenses constitute 24% of the total expenses, which is within a reasonable range for nonprofit overhead, suggesting efficient management.

Net Assets Analysis:

  • There is an increase in net assets from $400,000 at the beginning of the year to $500,000 at the end of the year, indicating a positive financial outcome for the year. This growth in net assets enhances the organization’s ability to sustain and possibly expand its programs.

Applying Reading Skills to Real-World Scenarios:

  • Trend Analysis: If comparing multiple years, one would look for trends such as growth in revenues and whether the proportion of expenses dedicated to program services is stable, increasing, or decreasing.
  • Risk Assessment: The reliance on government grants ($500,000 of $1,150,000 total revenues) might be a risk factor if these grants are subject to political changes or funding cuts. A financial strategy might be needed to mitigate this risk.
  • Operational Efficiency: The ratio of program expenses to overall expenses is a key indicator of nonprofit efficiency. In this case, CHI appears to be using its funds effectively towards mission-related activities.

Strategic Decisions:

  • Given the positive increase in net assets, CHI might consider expanding its services or building a reserve fund to safeguard against future uncertainties.
  • Assessing the impact of fundraising events (which cost $100,000 to raise $100,000) could be critical. If the net gain is minimal, CHI might need to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness of these events or explore other fundraising strategies.

This case study provides a clear example of how stakeholders can use a Statement of Activities to derive meaningful insights into a nonprofit’s financial health, operational efficiency, and overall sustainability. Such analysis is indispensable for strategic planning and ensuring that the organization continues to effectively fulfill its mission.


Summary of Key Takeaways About the Statement of Activities

The Statement of Activities is an essential financial document for any nonprofit organization. It provides a comprehensive overview of the organization’s financial activities over a specific period, detailing revenues, expenses, and changes in net assets. Key takeaways from this discussion include:

  • Understanding Financial Health: The Statement of Activities helps assess the financial health of a nonprofit by showing how funds are raised and used. It highlights the efficiency of resource allocation towards mission-driven activities.
  • Categorization of Funds: The statement distinguishes between unrestricted, temporarily restricted, and permanently restricted net assets, offering insights into the financial flexibility of the organization.
  • Operational Transparency: By detailing revenues and expenses, this statement provides transparency, fulfilling the accountability required by donors, regulatory bodies, and other stakeholders.
  • Strategic Tool: The information in the Statement of Activities can be used strategically for planning, managing budgets, and making operational decisions to enhance the nonprofit’s effectiveness and sustainability.

Importance of Regular Review by Stakeholders

Regular review of the Statement of Activities by stakeholders such as donors, board members, and management is crucial. This practice ensures:

  • Informed Oversight: Board members and management need to understand the financial trajectory of the organization to govern and manage it effectively.
  • Donor Confidence: Donors and funders review these statements to ensure that their contributions are being used appropriately and effectively towards the intended purposes.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Regular reviews help ensure ongoing compliance with financial reporting standards and other regulatory requirements, which is essential for maintaining the organization’s good standing and public trust.

Encouragement to Utilize This Knowledge to Make Informed Decisions About Involvement or Investment in a Nonprofit

Understanding how to read and interpret the Statement of Activities empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions regarding their involvement or investment in a nonprofit. This knowledge can help:

  • Evaluate Nonprofit Performance: Stakeholders can assess whether the nonprofit aligns with their values and goals and whether it manages its resources efficiently.
  • Guide Financial Contributions: Donors can decide how to allocate their funds, choosing to contribute to areas where there is the most need or where funds are unrestricted to aid general operations.
  • Support Strategic Growth: Management can use insights from the statement to drive strategic initiatives, address operational challenges, and plan for future growth or sustainability efforts.

In conclusion, the Statement of Activities is more than just a financial report; it is a vital tool that reflects the integrity and mission effectiveness of a nonprofit organization. By leveraging the insights provided by this statement, stakeholders can significantly enhance their impact on the organization’s success and longevity. This engagement not only benefits the nonprofit but also reinforces the overall health and vibrancy of the communities it serves.

Additional Resources

For those looking to deepen their understanding of nonprofit financial statements and accounting practices, a variety of resources are available that can provide further information and guidance. Below are some recommended links and references that can be helpful for stakeholders at all levels:

Books and Publications

  1. “Nonprofit Accounting & Financial Statements: Overview for Board, Management, and Staff” by Thomas R. Ittelson
    • This book provides a clear introduction to nonprofit financial statements, including the Statement of Activities. It’s designed for readers without a background in finance and accounting.
  2. “Financial Management for Nonprofit Organizations: Policies and Practices” by John Zietlow, Jo Ann Hankin, and Alan G. Seidner
    • A comprehensive guide that covers everything from basic financial principles to more complex issues like investment and risk management for nonprofits.
  3. “Strengthening Nonprofit Performance: A Funder’s Guide to Capacity Building” by Paul Connolly and Carol Lukas
    • This book discusses the importance of financial health and how funders can assist nonprofits in achieving long-term sustainability.

Online Resources

  1. National Council of Nonprofits (ncnonprofits.org)
    • Offers a variety of tools and articles on nonprofit financial accountability and best practices. Visit NCNonprofits
  2. Nonprofit Accounting Basics (nonprofitaccountingbasics.org)
  3. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) (fasb.org)
    • Provides access to the accounting standards (ASC 958) that govern the financial reporting of nonprofits. It’s a valuable resource for understanding the legal and technical aspects of nonprofit financial statements. Access FASB Standards

Webinars and Workshops

  1. “Understanding Nonprofit Financial Statements” Webinar Series by Nonprofit Quarterly
  2. Local Nonprofit Support Organizations
    • Many cities have local nonprofit support centers that offer workshops and seminars on nonprofit financial management. These local resources can be invaluable for hands-on learning and networking.
  3. Online Courses from Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, or EdX
    • Search for courses related to nonprofit financial management, which can range from beginner to advanced levels, offering flexibility and depth in learning.
    • Coursera
    • Udemy
    • EdX

Professional Associations

  1. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
    • The AICPA offers resources and training for accounting professionals working in or with nonprofits, including standards, guides, and continuing education opportunities. Explore AICPA resources
  2. Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA)
    • Provides publications and guidance on best practices in financial reporting for nonprofits globally. Learn more at ACCA Global

By utilizing these resources, stakeholders can enhance their understanding of nonprofit financial statements and accounting practices, ensuring that they are well-equipped to contribute to the financial success and accountability of their organizations.

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