It is midnight and your grant or funding proposal is due tomorrow. Your assistant left hours ago, and the words on the computer screen start to blur. “It’s not worth it,” you think. And besides, only a few grants or funding proposals pan out anyway.
Grants are a big part of the not-for-profit world. And yet, according to some experts, fewer than ten per cent of grant proposals are ever funded. That is probably why grant writing is often viewed as a lottery with little hope of success. But it does not have to be that way. Here are a few pointers to make the writing process a little easier:
1. Know your organization.
In your proposal, you need to prove your organization has a significant need and then come up with a solution to solve the problems. The more information you have at hand, the easier it is to answer questions on a grant proposal. Ask relevant staff members questions about your group’s programs, and use their answers to help write the proposals. If your employees have trouble providing answers you need, your organization may need to think through its ideas or document its experience more carefully.
2. Set up a system.
The requirements of grant applications are generally repetitive and predictable. Invest some time coordinating and preparing clerical material. You will find that with an efficient system, it’s just as easy to apply for 10 or 20 grants or funding proposals as it is to apply for one or two. And the more organized you are, the easier it becomes to tailor each proposal to the specific grant or funding proposal. Before getting started, contact the government or individual grant makers for their exact application specifications, requests for proposals and guidelines.
3. Build relationships.
Experienced grant and funding proposal writers send a steady stream of information to funders to show that their organizations are responsible and effective partners. Relationships can be cultivated in a variety of other ways, from personal meetings to an invitation to a local event. These contacts give funders a way to develop a positive profile of your organization and to see that you will use their funds responsibly.
4. Work steadily.
Do not wait until you are desperate. Steady, year-round grant seeking lets you gain control over the process. It also gives you the opportunity to carefully select who you will approach as a potential funder and how much to ask for. When you start from a position of power, you come across as a more secure investment.
Learn your craft. Like most skills, grant and funding proposal writing takes time to learn and can be frustrating at first. But keep doing research and writing proposals. Good writing skills are very important. The more you do, the better you become at crafting a good proposal.
The pay-off? An effective grant or funding proposal system that can speed and enhance your organization’s future work.
Smith Schafer has helped local nonprofits throughout Minnesota grow and thrive in their communities for the past 45 years. To learn more about how we can help, please contact a Smith Schafer professional.
Searching for an audit firm can be a time consuming and stressful task. However, it can be maneuvered easier if you know what to look for, have realistic expectations and ask the right questions.
BELOW ARE 5 ITEMS TO ASK YOURSELF DURING THE SELECTION PROCESS:
We have a CPA who prepares our taxes; can they do our audit?
Perhaps, and this is often a good place to start, but, not all CPAs are auditors and not all CPA firms audit all industries. Auditors and audit firms are held to different standards for continuing education, independence and oversight. This works both ways, the CPA you find to do your audit is probably not the same CPA you want completing your taxes. If part of your goal is to have a single CPA firm complete both your audit and tax work, be sure this is clear from the start of your search.
“An audit is an audit, find the best price!” Is there a benefit to paying more?
As with most purchases, “you get what you pay for,” is true for audits. Audit standards need to be followed, but a low cost auditor could drastically change how your organization works with an auditor. A better question to ask is, “do we want our audit to be a commodity or do we want it to provide a service?” If expectations are for your auditor to assist throughout the year with questions, attend board meetings, or give internal monthly financial statements a quick review, you have to determine if these services are included in the quote or at what rate you will be charged. Countless CPA firms can do an audit, but if you are looking for more than a once a year visit, the low cost provider may not be in your best interest.
Does our industry really matter?
Different industries can make a huge difference for an audit. Within the nonprofit sector, for example, organizations who receive federal funding maybe subject to a yellow book or single audit and Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, while others receive their funds through donors or user fees and are subject to Generally Accepted Auditing Standards. Within for-profit organizations, manufactures with inventory, equipment and cost of goods sold have different risks, accounting needs and audit approach than a service based organization. Accordingly, requesting references within your industry is an important part of your search. Inquiries of references should include questions related to the auditor’s industry knowledge and expertise.
Will I be able to work alongside the auditor we select?
There needs to be a comfort level between you and the audit team so you can go to them with concerns and feel confident in the guidance they are providing. Reviewing their background and qualifications is an important first step. However, this trust can start being established during the interview process. The interview is an opportunity to discuss the audit process, what will happen if problems occur and who will actually be on site during the audit. If answers are too technical or vague, it may be a sign you will not be able to work successfully with this particular auditor.
We have checked references and interviewed our prospective auditor, what additional information should we look for?
Audit firms are required to have a peer review at least once every three years, conducted by an independent CPA firm reviews their policies and audit procedures. The peer review’s conclusions, which are provided in a letter, should be reviewed and discussed with a potential auditor.
Every situation is different, if you have questions or are interested in more information on our audit practice, please contact your Smith Schafer professional by clicking here.
will need to include a breakdown of expenses by their natural expense
classification and their function for years beginning after December 15, 2017. Nonprofits
need to be aware of how they are spending funds and how they allocate costs
between the functions under generally accepted accounting principles. Below are
tips for nonprofits creating or assessing a statement of functional expenses.
General and administrative (G&A) costs are not bad. In fact they are necessary, of course, like most things, they are better in moderation. When an expense does not fall into the program or fundraising bucket it is, by default, a G&A expense. A nonprofit should not hide from the need for funds to operate the organization. Having support staff (HR, accounting, administrative assistants) shows signs of a strong and growing organization.
Fundraising costs are not bad. If an organization has contributions, they should have fundraising expenses. There are opportunities to allocate a portion of these costs to program or G&A expense, however, a series of tests and conditions need to be met.
Create a plan to allocate costs. Ideally invoices coming into an organization would be for a specific function. In reality, many expenses need to be allocated, including rent, depreciation, salaries, and office supplies. Nonprofits need a plan to allocate these costs, for example, by a time study or square footage analysis. Ultimately, the allocation method needs to be reasonable for each item being allocated.
Review and alter the plan to allocate costs. A pillar in accounting is to be consistent, but in a changing work environment, an individual’s time allocation this year may be drastically different than the prior year. As a result, the salary allocation should be reflected differently.
Executive Directors are not allocated based on the staff reporting to them. Any personal in a managerial role needs to have direct conduct or supervision of a program in order for it to be allocated to program expense. Oversight of personal in charge of the program does not reach the threshold to be included in program expenses.
Categorizing all program expenses together may not be the best approach. Nonprofits are required to report program expenses by major programs, however, organizations define what qualifies as a major program. These sub-categories of programs may change from year to year, just as they have on the 990 in the past. The same is true for support services (G&A and fundraising). They can be broken down into sub-categories if the nonprofit feels it conveys the information.
A statement of
functional expenses that accurately depicts a nonprofit and complies with
generally accepted accounting principles, will take time and effort, but will
add valuable perceptive on the financial statements.
Smith Schafer Audit Manager, Adam Kellerhals, hosted a live webinar where he discussed the liquidity requirement in the new accounting standard as it relates to nonprofit organizations. Click the video above to listen to the recording.
Would you leave the front door unlocked to your business? Of course not. That would give thieves easy access to your assets. Yet a surprising number of organizations do not have strong antifraud controls in place to protect against dishonest people inside their organizations. And theft from insiders — also referred to as “occupational fraud” — can be costly.
Fraud losses vary significantly, depending on the nature of the scam and how soon it is detected. Globally, the median loss is $130,000, according to the findings from the 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). Here is a closer look at who was affected and how much was lost, as reported in the latest version of this biennial study.
Fraud can strike any organization regardless of the nature of its operations or its size. The latest ACFE study included 2,690 fraud cases occurring between January 2016 and July 2017.
While the news media focuses on high profile fraud incidents involving public companies, the median loss for those companies was only $117,000. Private companies suffered far greater losses — their median loss was a whopping $164,000. By comparison, the median losses for government and not-for-profit entities were approximately $118,000 and $75,000, respectively.
In addition, there are subtle distinctions between the types of fraud schemes that strike small and large organizations.
Top 5 Fraud Schemes by Size
Percent of Cases
Non-cash schemes (22%)
Check tampering (22%)
Expense reimbursement (21%)
Cash on hand (14%)
Skimming and cash on hand (20%)
Expense reimbursment (11%)
To Catch a Thief
Small and large organizations also differ in how they catch fraudsters. Tips were the detection method in 29% of the cases involving small entities, compared to 44% of the cases involving large ones. This could result from the prevalence of reporting hotlines, which are more common among larger companies than small ones with limited resources.
Overall, tips are the most common way fraud is initially detected. But it is important to remember outside stakeholders may also provide tips on unethical behavior. In the 2018 study, 21% of tips came from customers and 9% came from vendors. So, it is important to educate your supply chain partners about any reporting mechanisms you set up.
What are the critical elements of an internal control system? In terms of lowering fraud losses, the most effective internal controls in the 2018 study were:
Percent Reduction in Fraud Loss
Code of conduct
Proactive data monitoring and analysis
On the flip side, weak internal controls often provide dishonest people with the opportunity to steal assets or “cook the books.” In the 2018 study, a lack of internal controls and the ability to override internal controls were cited as the leading factors that contributed to fraud. Together, these factors were present in nearly half of the fraud cases in the latest study.
In addition, the 2018 ACFE study inquired about the types of antifraud controls fraud victims had implemented. The report revealed that 25% of frauds at larger organizations were caused by a lack of internal controls. In contrast, 42% of frauds at small organizations stemmed from weak controls. This finding helps explain why fraud seems to hit smaller organizations harder than larger ones.
Over the last two decades, the ACFE’s fraud report has taught important lessons including: No organization is immune to white collar crime. Driven by this report and recent high-profile public fraud cases, companies have increasingly implemented antifraud controls in recent years.
How do your internal controls measure up? Although strong internal controls do not guarantee fraud won’t occur at your organization, they can minimize your losses.