Donations for Non-Profit Organizations: An Accountant’s Perspective

Donations for Non-Profit Organizations An Accountant's Perspective1


Last Updated on March 18, 2024 by Qusai Ahmad

Non-profit organizations, driven by a mission to make a positive impact, often rely on donations as a primary source of funding. From this accountant’s perspective, we delve into the intricacies of recording, reporting, and managing donations to ensure financial transparency and sustainability.

Recording donations for Non-Profit Organizations

Understanding the diverse forms of donations and the tools available for tracking them is fundamental for robust financial management. Dedicated accounting software such as QuickBooks, Xero, and NonProfitPlus can streamline the donation recording process, but it’s essential to understand the basic journal entries involved.

Journal entries for recording donations

Efficiently recording different types of donations involves specific journal entries tailored to each category:

Cash donation:

  • Debit: Cash
  • Credit: Contributions revenue

A cash donation refers to a monetary contribution made in the form of physical currency, checks, or credit card payments.

In-kind donation:

  • Debit: Inventory (or other asset account)
  • Credit: Contributions revenue

An in-kind donation involves the contribution of goods or services, such as food, clothing, furniture, or professional services.

Stock donation:

  • Debit: Investments
  • Credit: Contributions revenue

A stock donation encompasses the contribution of stocks or other securities as a form of financial support.

Restricted donation:

  • Debit: Restricted contributions
  • Credit: Contributions revenue

A restricted donation is earmarked for a specific purpose, directing the funds to support a particular program or project.

It’s crucial to note that these journal entries serve as a foundational guide. The actual entries may vary based on the accounting software used and the unique circumstances surrounding each donation.

Examples of journal entries for recording donations

Cash Donation Example:

  • Debit: Cash $500
  • Credit: Contributions revenue $500

In-kind Donation Example:

  • Debit: Supplies $300
  • Credit: Contributions revenue $300

Stock Donation Example:

  • Debit: Investments $1,000
  • Credit: Contributions revenue $1,000

Restricted Donation Example:

  • Debit: Restricted contributions $1,500
  • Credit: Contributions revenue $1,500

These examples, coupled with explanations of each donation type, provide a comprehensive understanding for a broad audience.

By mastering these basics, your organization can ensure accurate and transparent recording of donations, laying the groundwork for effective financial management.

How to track the source of donations

Effectively tracking the origins of donations is pivotal for strategic planning and donor engagement.

Leveraging CRM Software for Donor Database Management

Maintaining a dynamic donor database is streamlined through cutting-edge Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Platforms such as Salesforce or Bloomerang not only facilitate efficient tracking of donation sources but also empower organizations to nurture meaningful relationships with their supporters.

Benefits of Tracking Donation Sources

Tracking donation sources comes with a myriad of benefits, including:

  • Improved Donor Engagement: Understanding where donations originate allows for targeted communication, strengthening the connection between donors and the organization.
  • More Effective Fundraising Campaigns: Informed by data on donation sources, organizations can tailor their fundraising campaigns for maximum impact.
  • Better Informed Decision-Making: Insights into donation sources empower organizations to make strategic decisions that align with donor preferences and organizational goals.

How to account for restricted donations

Ensuring accurate handling of restricted donations involves creating dedicated funds and leveraging specialized accounting tools.

Establishing Clarity with Dedicated Funds

Creating a distinct fund for restricted donations is more than a best practice; it’s a strategic necessity. Accounting software like Aplos goes beyond assistance—it actively contributes to maintaining clear distinctions.

Challenges in Accounting for Restricted Donations

However, accounting for restricted donations comes with specific challenges, such as:

  • Ensuring Compliance with Donor Restrictions: Striking the right balance between honoring donor restrictions and organizational needs can be intricate.
  • Tracking the Use of Restricted Funds: Transparently accounting for how restricted funds are used demands meticulous record-keeping and reporting.

Reporting donations

Transparent reporting is not only a regulatory requirement but also a means to showcase the organization’s financial health to stakeholders, including donors, creditors, and government agencies.

How to report donations in your financial statements

Include a dedicated section in financial statements, utilizing software like Fund EZ to generate clear and concise reports. This section should encompass vital information, providing a comprehensive snapshot of the organization’s financial landscape.

Examples of Information to Include in the Dedicated Section on Donations:

  1. Total Amount of Donations Received: Present a clear figure that encapsulates the overall financial support received from donors.
  2. Types of Donations Received: Categorize donations into types, such as cash, in-kind, or stock contributions. This breakdown offers insights into the diversity of support.
  3. Restrictions on Donations Received: Clearly outline any restrictions placed on donations, ensuring transparency regarding the designated purposes for which funds are allocated.

How to disclose information about donations in your audit report

Enhance transparency by explicitly detailing donation information in audit reports. Software like AccuFund can facilitate this process, ensuring that your audit reports provide a thorough understanding of the organization’s financial integrity.

Types of Donation Information to Disclose in Audit Reports:

  1. Total Amount of Donations Received: Summarize the overall financial support received during the audit period.
  2. Types of Donations Received: Specify the categories of donations, such as cash, in-kind, or stock contributions.
  3. Restrictions on Donations Received: Clearly articulate any restrictions imposed on donations, ensuring compliance with donor intentions.
  4. Utilization of Donations: Provide insights into how the received donations were utilized, demonstrating accountability in financial stewardship.

Internal controls for donations

Implementing robust internal controls safeguards against financial mismanagement and instills confidence in donors. These controls are instrumental in mitigating specific risks, including fraud, theft, and errors.

How to implement internal controls to ensure that donations are received and used appropriately

Implementing internal controls is crucial for ensuring the proper handling of donations. Here are specific examples of how these controls can be implemented:

Segregation of Duties:

Ensure a clear separation of responsibilities to prevent concentration of power and reduce the risk of errors or fraudulent activities. Different individuals should be assigned distinct roles in the donation process—receiving, recording, and disbursing.

Regular Reconciliations:

Frequent reconciliations of donation records to bank statements and other financial records are essential. This practice serves as a checks-and-balances mechanism, promptly identifying discrepancies and ensuring the accuracy of financial data.

Approval Hierarchies:

Establish a structured approval process for donations, where all disbursements require approval from an authorized person. This hierarchical approach adds an extra layer of scrutiny, enhancing accountability and ensuring that all transactions align with organizational policies.

Additional Internal Controls:

  1. Access Controls:
    Restrict access to donation records and financial systems to authorized personnel, minimizing the risk of unauthorized activities.
  2. Background Checks:
    Conduct background checks for employees involved in the donation process. This proactive measure helps identify potential risks before they become issues.

These additional internal controls fortify the protection of donations, creating a comprehensive framework that addresses various potential risks.

By implementing a combination of these controls, non-profit organizations can cultivate a secure and transparent financial environment, reinforcing trust with donors.

Best practices for donation management

Efficient donation management is not just a necessity but the lifeblood of sustaining a non-profit organization’s operations.

Tips for developing a donation management policy

Developing a robust donation management policy is the cornerstone of effective financial stewardship. Draw inspiration from exemplary organizations like the American Red Cross to create a comprehensive policy that aligns with your mission and legal obligations.

Key elements to consider in your policy may include:

  • Guidelines for Donation Acceptance: Clearly outline criteria for accepting various types of donations, ensuring alignment with your organization’s mission and ethical standards.
  • Recording and Reporting Procedures: Define meticulous processes for recording and reporting donations, incorporating insights from accounting best practices.
  • Donor Privacy and Communication: Establish protocols for respecting donor privacy and effective communication strategies, fostering trust and long-term engagement.

Tips for acknowledging donations

Acknowledging donations is more than a formality; it’s an opportunity to cultivate a meaningful relationship with donors. Leverage software tools like Kindful to streamline acknowledgment processes, ensuring donors feel valued and appreciated promptly.

Tips for thanking donors

Going beyond acknowledgments is a powerful way to express gratitude and strengthen the connection with donors. Consider these strategies:

  • Organize Appreciation Events: Host events to celebrate donors and showcase the impact of their contributions. This provides a tangible connection between their support and the organization’s mission.
  • Personalized Messages: Utilize platforms like DonorPerfect to send personalized messages expressing gratitude. A personalized touch demonstrates genuine appreciation and reinforces the importance of each donor’s role.

Navigating the complex landscape of non-profit donations requires a strategic blend of meticulous recording, transparent reporting, robust internal controls, and thoughtful donor engagement.

By leveraging appropriate accounting software and incorporating these best practices, accountants become instrumental in fortifying the financial foundations of non-profit organizations. This holistic approach not only ensures financial sustainability but also fosters a culture of appreciation and trust among donors.


Effective donation management is essential for non-profit organizations to sustain their operations and fulfill their mission. By recording donations accurately and transparently, accounting for restricted donations appropriately, and implementing robust internal controls, non-profit organizations can safeguard their financial resources and instill confidence in donors.

Additionally, developing a donation management policy and implementing best practices, such as timely acknowledgments and personalized thank-yous, can help non-profit organizations build strong relationships with donors and foster long-term support.

Accountants play a vital role in supporting non-profit organizations with their donation management needs. By leveraging their expertise and leveraging appropriate accounting software, accountants can help non-profit organizations strengthen their financial foundations and achieve their mission-driven goals.

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