Understanding Donations and Grants on a Nonprofit Statement of Expenses

Donations and Grants on a Nonprofit Statement of Expenses

Share This...


In this article, we’ll cover donations and grants on a nonprofit statement of expenses. Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in addressing societal needs, from providing essential services to advocating for various causes. To maintain transparency and ensure accountability, these organizations rely heavily on accurate financial reporting. Among the various financial statements, the statement of expenses offers critical insights into how funds are utilized, which is pivotal for the management, donors, and regulatory bodies overseeing nonprofit activities.

The statement of expenses in particular holds significant importance because it details how the organization spends its money. It helps stakeholders understand whether funds are being managed wisely and in alignment with the nonprofit’s mission and goals. For nonprofits, which often depend extensively on external funding, this statement is essential for sustaining donor confidence and securing future funding.

Donations and grants are typically major sources of revenue for nonprofit organizations, but they are also frequent subjects of scrutiny on the expenses statement. This scrutiny arises because these funds need to be used according to specific donor or grantor stipulations, and because their management reflects directly on the organization’s credibility and effectiveness. Understanding how donations and grants appear and are reported in the statement of expenses is crucial. It not only ensures compliance with financial regulations but also enhances transparency, showing how funds directly support the nonprofit’s objectives. This section of our article will delve into the nuances of recording these financial streams, offering readers detailed insights into proper accounting practices and the implications of these entries on the overall financial health of the organization.

Understanding Nonprofit Financial Statements

Overview of the Different Types of Financial Statements Used by Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations use a suite of financial statements to capture their economic activities, similar to for-profit businesses, but with some distinctions that reflect their unique goals and funding structures. The primary financial statements used by nonprofits include:

  1. Statement of Financial Position: Similar to a balance sheet in for-profit entities, this statement provides a snapshot of the organization’s assets, liabilities, and net assets at a given point in time. It shows what the organization owns and owes, revealing the net assets that can be used for future activities or obligations.
  2. Statement of Activities: Equivalent to the income statement in the for-profit sector, this statement details the organization’s revenue and expenses over a period. It highlights how funds are generated and spent, showing the changes in net assets resulting from operational activities.
  3. Statement of Cash Flows: This statement tracks the inflows and outflows of cash within the organization, offering insights into the liquidity and financial health of the entity. It helps stakeholders understand how operations are funded and how obligations are being met.
  4. Statement of Functional Expenses: Specific to nonprofits, this statement categorizes expenses according to the function they support, such as program services, management, and fundraising. This categorization helps demonstrate how the organization allocates resources toward its mission versus administrative or fundraising activities.

Specific Focus on the Statement of Expenses: Definition and Importance

The Statement of Expenses, often integrated within the Statement of Activities or presented as part of the Statement of Functional Expenses, plays a pivotal role in nonprofit financial reporting. This statement provides a detailed breakdown of all expenses incurred by the organization, organized by category and function. It is vital for several reasons:

  • Transparency and Accountability: The statement of expenses allows stakeholders to see exactly how funds are being used. This transparency is crucial for maintaining trust with donors, grantors, and regulatory bodies.
  • Budget Management: By detailing actual expenses against budgeted figures, this statement helps nonprofit managers assess financial performance and make informed decisions about resource allocation.
  • Compliance and Reporting: Many grants and designated donations come with stipulations on how funds must be used. The statement of expenses helps ensure that these funds are utilized appropriately, fulfilling donor intentions and complying with legal requirements.
  • Operational Insights: Analyzing expenses by function (e.g., programs, administration, fundraising) allows stakeholders to evaluate the organization’s operational efficiency. This insight can drive strategic decisions, such as where to reduce costs or increase investment.

The statement of expenses is not just a financial document; it is a tool for strategic management, ensuring that a nonprofit adheres to its mission while managing its resources effectively. As we delve deeper into how donations and grants are featured within this statement, the importance of meticulous recording and reporting becomes even clearer, reinforcing the nonprofit’s commitment to its cause and its supporters.

Donations and Grants: Definition and Types

Definitions of Donations and Grants

In the realm of nonprofit finance, donations and grants represent two principal forms of funding, but they come from different sources and often with different stipulations:

  • Donations are voluntary contributions made by individuals, corporations, or other entities, primarily given without expectation of direct return. These contributions are fundamental to the operating budget of many nonprofits.
  • Grants are typically larger sums of money awarded by organizations—such as government bodies, foundations, or corporations—specifically for certain projects or operational costs. Grants usually come with specified requirements dictated by the grantor, detailing how the funds should be used and often requiring detailed reporting.

Types of Donations

Donations can be categorized into several types based on how they can be used by the nonprofit:

  1. Unrestricted Donations: These are funds that donors give without any conditions on how they can be used. They are flexible and can be applied to any part of the organization’s operations, making them incredibly valuable for covering overhead costs, funding new initiatives, or maintaining liquidity.
  2. Restricted Donations: These contributions come with specific conditions set by the donor on how the funds should be used. Restrictions can be temporary or permanent, targeting specific projects, programs, or endowment funds. Managing and reporting these funds accurately is crucial to maintain donor trust and legal compliance.
  3. In-Kind Donations: Instead of cash, in-kind donations involve the provision of goods or services directly. These could include equipment, supplies, or professional services. The value of in-kind donations needs to be accurately assessed and reported in the financial statements to reflect the true cost and benefit to the organization.

Types of Grants

Grants are often more structured than donations and can be classified based on their source and purpose:

  1. Government Grants: Issued by local, state, or federal government agencies, these grants are typically intended for specific projects or initiatives that align with public policy objectives. They often come with stringent compliance and reporting requirements.
  2. Private Grants: These are funds awarded by private entities like foundations, trusts, or corporate donors. While they can be for general support, private grants are often project-specific and come with conditions regarding their use.
  3. Operational vs. Project-Specific Grants:
    • Operational Grants are designed to fund the general operating expenses of an organization. These grants help cover basic overhead costs such as salaries, utilities, and rent, providing financial stability.
    • Project-Specific Grants are allocated for specific projects or programs within the organization. The grantor typically requires detailed proposals and reports on project progress and outcomes to ensure the funds are used as intended.

Understanding the nuances between different types of donations and grants is crucial for nonprofit leaders and financial managers. This knowledge ensures that funds are allocated correctly, used efficiently, and reported accurately, thereby upholding the financial integrity and mission effectiveness of the organization.

Reporting Donations and Grants in the Statement of Expenses

The proper recording and categorization of donations and grants in the statement of expenses are critical for maintaining transparency, ensuring accountability, and fulfilling legal and regulatory requirements. This section delves into how these financial streams are documented and reported within nonprofit financial statements.

How Donations are Recorded and Categorized

Donations must be accurately recorded to reflect their nature and the donor’s intentions. Here’s how donations are typically categorized and recorded:

  1. Unrestricted Donations: These funds are the most flexible and are recorded as general revenue in the period they are received. They are shown in the statement of activities under general donations and used according to the organization’s discretion.
  2. Temporarily Restricted Donations: When donations come with specific conditions on their use, they are recorded as temporarily restricted revenue. These funds are reported separately in the financial statements to show that they must be used for a designated purpose. The restriction is lifted, and the funds are reclassified to unrestricted revenue once the stipulated conditions are met.
  3. Permanently Restricted Donations: Contributions that donors have specified must be maintained permanently are recorded as permanently restricted funds. Typically, only the income generated from these funds (e.g., interest) can be used, often for a specific purpose defined by the donor.

How Grants are Reported, Focusing on Restrictions and Conditions

Grants are reported similarly to donations but often require more detailed documentation due to their specific conditions and the oversight typically exercised by grantors:

  1. Government Grants: These are recorded based on the terms of the grant agreement. If the grant is for funding specific expenses, it is recognized as revenue in the periods those expenses are incurred. Compliance with financial reporting and budgetary alignment is crucial and is closely monitored.
  2. Private Grants: Like government grants, private grants are recorded based on their intended use. If they are for specific projects, revenue recognition is deferred until the related expenses are incurred. This ensures that the reporting aligns with the grant’s usage requirements.

Examples of Entries for Both Donations and Grants

Here are hypothetical examples of how entries for donations and grants might appear in the statement of expenses:

  • Unrestricted Donation Entry:
    • Account: Unrestricted Donations
    • Debit: Cash/Bank
    • Credit: Donation Revenue
    • Amount: $10,000
    • Description: Recorded as revenue upon receipt with no donor restrictions.
  • Temporarily Restricted Donation for a Project:
    • Account: Temporarily Restricted Donations
    • Debit: Cash/Bank
    • Credit: Temporarily Restricted Revenue
    • Amount: $5,000
    • Description: To be used for education program as specified by the donor. Revenue recognized as expenses are incurred.
  • Government Grant for Specific Equipment:
    • Account: Deferred Revenue (if not yet used)
    • Debit: Cash/Bank
    • Credit: Grant Revenue (upon use)
    • Amount: $20,000
    • Description: Grant to purchase laboratory equipment. Recognized as revenue when equipment is purchased.

These examples illustrate the standard practice of recording and reporting donations and grants, ensuring each transaction reflects the intent of the funders and the financial stewardship of the nonprofit organization. This detailed documentation aids in financial management, planning, and reporting, while also building trust with donors and grantors.

Accounting Principles for Donations and Grants

Nonprofits must adhere to specific accounting principles to ensure their financial statements accurately reflect their operations and maintain the trust of donors, grantors, and regulatory bodies. Understanding these principles is essential for managing donations and grants effectively.

Overview of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) Relevant to Nonprofits

The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) provide a framework for financial reporting within nonprofit organizations. Key aspects of GAAP relevant to nonprofits include:

  1. Revenue Recognition: Nonprofits must recognize revenue according to the specifics of when it is earned and when the funds are received. This includes differentiating between contributions that are restricted by donors for specific uses and those that are not.
  2. Expense Reporting: GAAP requires that expenses be reported in categories that show the costs of various functions of the nonprofit, such as program services and administrative costs. This helps illustrate how a nonprofit is applying its funds toward its mission.
  3. Net Asset Classification: Under GAAP, nonprofits must classify their net assets into three categories: without donor restrictions, with temporary restrictions, and with permanent restrictions. This classification affects how resources are utilized and reported.

Explanation of Fund Accounting in the Context of Donations and Grants

Fund accounting is a distinctive feature in nonprofit accounting, serving a different purpose compared to traditional business accounting. It involves:

  • Separation of Funds: Each fund within a nonprofit is treated as a separate accounting entity. This method is used to track specific donations or grants that are restricted by donors for particular purposes.
  • Tracking and Reporting: Fund accounting allows nonprofits to ensure and demonstrate that funds are used in accordance with donor or grantor restrictions. This is crucial for compliance and for maintaining donor trust.
  • Financial Management: By segregating funds, nonprofits can more easily manage their finances, ensuring that restricted funds are not inappropriately used for other purposes.

Importance of Adhering to Donor-Imposed Restrictions

Adherence to donor-imposed restrictions is not only a legal obligation but also a critical component of ethical financial management in nonprofits. Key points include:

  • Legal Compliance: Nonprofits are legally required to use donations for the purposes specified by donors. Failure to comply can result in legal consequences and loss of nonprofit status.
  • Donor Relations: Maintaining good relationships with donors is essential for future funding. Adhering to restrictions shows donors that the nonprofit respects their wishes and manages funds responsibly.
  • Public Trust: Transparency and adherence to donor restrictions are crucial for maintaining public trust. This can impact a nonprofit’s reputation and its ability to attract more donations.
  • Auditing and Reporting: Regular audits and transparent reporting that demonstrate adherence to restrictions help ensure that the nonprofit remains in good standing with regulatory bodies and the public.

By understanding and implementing these accounting principles, nonprofits can ensure that they not only comply with financial regulations but also manage their resources effectively, maintaining the trust and support of their donors and the communities they serve.

Impact of Donations and Grants on Financial Health

Donations and grants play a crucial role in the financial ecosystem of nonprofit organizations. They impact the organization’s sustainability and its ability to fulfill its mission. Understanding these effects is essential for effective financial planning and management.

How Donations and Grants Affect the Financial Sustainability of a Nonprofit

  1. Resource Availability: Donations and grants typically represent a significant portion of a nonprofit’s revenue. They provide the essential funds needed to operate programs, cover administrative costs, and sometimes, build reserves for future stability.
  2. Budget Flexibility: Unrestricted donations give nonprofits the flexibility to allocate funds where they are needed most, which is critical for adapting to changes and unexpected challenges. Conversely, restricted funds must be used as specified by the donor or grantor, which can limit an organization’s flexibility.
  3. Long-Term Planning: Stable and recurring grants or donations can enable nonprofits to plan and invest in long-term projects and initiatives. However, dependence on temporary or one-time funding can make long-term planning challenging and potentially risky if those funds are not renewed.
  4. Financial Stability: A diversified funding base, combining both donations and grants from multiple sources, can enhance financial stability. Over-reliance on a single source or type of funding increases risk if that funding source is reduced or withdrawn.

Analysis of Dependency Ratios and What They Signify About Organizational Health

Dependency ratios are financial metrics used to assess how much a nonprofit relies on specific funding sources. They are calculated by dividing the organization’s funding from a particular source (like grants or major donations) by its total income. These ratios provide insights into the financial health and stability of an organization:

  1. High Dependency Ratio: A high dependency ratio indicates that a significant portion of a nonprofit’s revenue comes from a single source or a few sources. This can be risky because the organization may face financial difficulties if that funding is reduced or discontinued. High dependency ratios may also deter other potential funders who perceive the organization as financially vulnerable or unsustainable.
  2. Low Dependency Ratio: A low dependency ratio suggests that the nonprofit has a diverse funding stream, reducing its risk if one source of funding fails. This diversification is generally viewed favorably by donors, grantors, and financial analysts because it indicates financial resilience.
  3. Ideal Dependency Ratios: There is no “one-size-fits-all” ideal ratio, as it varies by the nature and strategy of the nonprofit. However, maintaining a balanced approach—where no single source dominates the funding landscape—is generally considered healthy.

Understanding and managing these dependency ratios is critical for nonprofit leaders. It helps in making strategic decisions about fundraising, developing new funding sources, and planning for financial sustainability. By keeping these ratios within a healthy range, nonprofits can enhance their financial stability and ensure they continue to effectively serve their missions over the long term.

Reading and Interpreting Donations and Grants on Statements

Proper understanding of how donations and grants are reported in financial statements is crucial for stakeholders such as donors, grantmakers, and auditors. Their ability to accurately interpret these figures ensures that nonprofits are held accountable and that their financial practices align with their stated missions and regulatory requirements.

Tips for Stakeholders on Reading and Interpreting These Figures

  1. Understand the Different Categories: Recognize the differences between unrestricted, temporarily restricted, and permanently restricted funds. Knowing how these are categorized and reported will help in assessing how funds are being allocated and used.
  2. Look for Consistency in Reporting: Consistency in how transactions are recorded and reported over time can be a good indicator of reliable financial management practices. Stakeholders should be wary of significant changes in accounting methods unless they are well justified.
  3. Analyze Expense Ratios: Review the ratios of program expenses to total expenses. A healthy nonprofit should spend a substantial portion of its budget on its mission-related activities compared to administrative or fundraising costs.
  4. Examine Notes and Disclosures: Important details about funding sources and restrictions, as well as compliance with grant conditions, are often contained in the notes and disclosures of financial statements. These sections can provide deeper insights into the nonprofit’s operations and financial health.
  5. Review Audit Opinions: If available, read the auditor’s opinion attached to the financial statements. An unqualified or “clean” opinion is a good sign, whereas a qualified opinion may indicate issues with the nonprofit’s financial practices.

Common Mistakes and Misconceptions About Financial Reporting in Nonprofits

  1. Equating All Revenue with Cash Flows: Not all revenue reported in the financial statements, especially from grants and pledges, is received as cash within the reporting period. Misinterpreting this can lead to an overestimation of the available resources.
  2. Ignoring Donor Restrictions: A common mistake is failing to adequately distinguish or report on the different types of restrictions placed on funds. This can lead to unintentional misuses of funds or compliance issues.
  3. Overlooking the Importance of Functional Expense Reporting: Stakeholders sometimes overlook the breakdown of expenses into program, administrative, and fundraising categories. This breakdown is crucial for assessing how effectively a nonprofit is directing its resources toward its mission.
  4. Misunderstanding Nonprofit Efficiency: Some stakeholders expect nonprofits to have extremely low administrative costs. However, a certain level of investment in administration is necessary for effective operations. Judging a nonprofit solely by its administrative cost ratio can lead to a misunderstanding of its efficiency and impact.
  5. Confusing Grants as Revenue Without Conditions: Especially with government and certain private grants, there may be stringent conditions attached that require specific reporting and spending. Misinterpreting these as unrestricted funds can lead to compliance issues and financial misreporting.

Educating stakeholders on these nuances and common pitfalls in interpreting financial reports is key to fostering transparency and accountability in nonprofit operations. Proper understanding and vigilance help ensure that funds are used appropriately and that nonprofits remain effective and compliant with their financial obligations.

Case Studies

Examining real-life examples of how nonprofit organizations handle donations and grants can provide valuable insights and lessons for others in the sector. Below are two case studies that highlight different aspects of financial management and the handling of funds within nonprofits.

Case Study 1: A Community Health Nonprofit

Background: A mid-sized community health nonprofit receives funding from a mix of government grants, private donations, and corporate sponsorships. Its operations include clinics, outreach programs, and education services.

Financial Management:

  • Government Grants: The organization meticulously tracks spending on specific grant-funded projects using designated accounting codes and holds quarterly review meetings to ensure that expenditures align with grant conditions.
  • Private Donations: Unrestricted funds from private donors are used to cover operational costs and to fund areas not covered by grants, providing flexibility in allocation.
  • Corporate Sponsorships: These are often tied to specific events or programs. The nonprofit uses separate accounts to ensure these funds are used strictly according to sponsor agreements.

Lessons Learned:

  • Maintaining detailed records and clear separation of funds ensures compliance with funding stipulations and aids in transparent reporting.
  • Regular communication with donors and sponsors helps manage expectations and reinforces trust.

Case Study 2: An International Relief Organization

Background: This large organization operates worldwide, providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid, funded primarily through government grants, international donor agencies, and public donations.

Financial Management:

  • Restricted Funds: The organization faces challenges due to the varied restrictions placed by international donors. To manage this, it has developed a robust fund accounting system that categorizes and tracks funds according to donor restrictions.
  • Audit and Compliance: Due to the high volume of transactions and multiple funding sources, the organization conducts internal audits semi-annually and hires external auditors annually to ensure proper financial management and compliance.
  • Adaptability in Crisis: During emergencies, the organization has protocols to quickly re-allocate certain unrestricted funds to respond rapidly to crises, after notifying and gaining consent from donors where possible.

Lessons Learned:

  • Advanced planning and having a flexible yet rigorous system in place for fund management are crucial for responding effectively to emergent situations.
  • Transparency with donors, especially about how funds are being used and the challenges encountered, builds long-term trust and can lead to more sustainable funding.

Both case studies demonstrate the importance of detailed financial tracking, rigorous adherence to donor restrictions, and the benefits of having a flexible approach to managing donations and grants. By learning from such real-life examples, other nonprofits can enhance their financial strategies, improve donor relationships, and better fulfill their missions.


Recap of the Importance of Transparent and Accurate Reporting

Throughout this article, we have explored the critical role that transparent and accurate financial reporting plays in the success and sustainability of nonprofit organizations. Properly managing and reporting on donations and grants is not merely a regulatory requirement—it’s a foundational aspect of building trust and credibility with donors, grantmakers, and the public. Transparent reporting ensures that funds are used effectively and in alignment with both donor intentions and organizational missions. It also provides the necessary data to inform strategic decision-making, enabling nonprofits to adapt to changing circumstances and optimize their impact.

Encouragement for Ongoing Education for Nonprofit Managers and Accountants

The landscape of nonprofit finance is complex and ever-evolving, particularly with changes in regulations, donor expectations, and funding mechanisms. As such, continuous learning and professional development are essential for those managing these vital resources. Nonprofit managers and accountants are encouraged to engage in ongoing education and training to stay current with the latest accounting standards, technological advancements, and best practices in fund management.

This includes participating in workshops, seminars, and courses focused on nonprofit financial management. Networking with peers, joining professional associations, and accessing resources offered by these groups can also provide valuable insights and support. Additionally, embracing new technologies and software that enhance accounting accuracy and efficiency can greatly benefit an organization’s financial health.

By committing to continuous improvement and learning, nonprofit professionals can better navigate the complexities of financial management, ensuring their organizations remain compliant, transparent, and aligned with their core objectives. Ultimately, the goal is to enhance the capacity of nonprofits to deliver on their promises and to maximize their impact on the communities and causes they serve.

Further Resources

For those looking to deepen their understanding of nonprofit financial management, particularly in handling donations and grants, numerous resources are available. Below is a curated list of books, courses, and websites, along with professional organizations that can provide ongoing guidance and updates.


  1. “Nonprofit Accounting & Financial Statements: Overview for Board, Management, and Staff” by Thomas R. Ittelson – This book provides a clear explanation of nonprofit financial statements and accounting, making it accessible for non-accountants involved in nonprofit management.
  2. “Streetsmart Financial Basics for Nonprofit Managers” by Thomas A. McLaughlin – This book offers practical financial management strategies tailored to the unique aspects of nonprofit organizations.
  3. “Financial Management for Nonprofit Organizations: Policies and Practices” by John Zietlow, Jo Ann Hankin, and Alan G. Seidner – A comprehensive guide that covers a range of topics from budgeting to financial reporting and governance.


  1. Nonprofit Financial Stewardship Webinar: Introduction to Accounting and Financial Statements – Offered by Harvard Kennedy School, this online course focuses on how nonprofit leaders can use financial statements to manage their organization.
  2. Financial Management in Nonprofits – Coursera – This course, offered in partnership with the University of Illinois, delves into financial practices, theories, and tools that nonprofit managers need to succeed.
  3. The Nonprofit Financial Management Certificate Program – Provided by the Nonprofit Learning Lab, this program covers topics such as budgeting, reporting, and compliance, tailored for nonprofit professionals.


  1. National Council of Nonprofits (councilofnonprofits.org) – This site offers resources on financial management practices, regulatory updates, and governance for nonprofits.
  2. Nonprofit Finance Fund (nff.org) – NFF provides a wealth of resources aimed at helping nonprofits manage their finances, including tools and advice on managing restricted grants.
  3. Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) – Known for its charity assessments, this site also offers helpful guides and articles on understanding nonprofit financial statements.

Professional Organizations and Standards Boards

  1. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) – FASB sets accounting standards for nonprofits in the United States and offers updates and guidance through its website.
  2. American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) – The AICPA provides resources and community support for accountants, including those working within nonprofit sectors, and offers a nonprofit section with specialized training and publications.
  3. The Association of Nonprofit Accountants and Finance Professionals (ANAFP) – This organization offers certification programs, training, and resources specifically geared towards professionals managing nonprofit finances.

By engaging with these resources, nonprofit professionals can enhance their knowledge and skills in financial management, ensuring their organizations operate effectively and transparently. Keeping up-to-date with current trends and standards through professional organizations is also critical for staying compliant and making informed decisions that benefit the organization and its mission.

Other Posts You'll Like...

Want to Pass as Fast as Possible?

(and avoid failing sections?)

Watch one of our free "Study Hacks" trainings for a free walkthrough of the SuperfastCPA study methods that have helped so many candidates pass their sections faster and avoid failing scores...