Cash flow management 101

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In a slow economy, many nonprofit leaders worry about having enough money to meet their organizations’ financial obligations each month. But those who effectively monitor their nonprofits’ cash flow can successfully predict when the money coming in will balance with the money going out, when they’ll have a surplus of cash, and when they’ll have a shortage. They can plan — and take actions — accordingly.

What’s cash flow management?

Cash flow management involves analyzing cash inflows and outflows based on the timing of receipts and payments. It’s more than taking your annual budget figures and dividing by 12 to come up with a static, monthly amount — this won’t give you an accurate snapshot of your cash flow.

Take an annual event. If it’s a holiday dinner, costs rise in November and December as you plan, and pay for, the event. Costs also may bump up noticeably in, say, January if you publish an annual membership directory then. In fact, costs can vary significantly from month to month for a variety of reasons — for example, as heating and cooling costs rise and fall or staffing needs change.

Where do you begin?

To begin managing your not-for-profit’s cash flow, create a cash flow report using a simple grid. Along the top, list all 12 months and label them either “actual” or “projected.” Going down the page, create rows for the following information:

Beginning balance. This line shows the amount of cash you had at the start of the month.

Cash coming in. Create line item entries for the largest income categories you’ll have for each specific month. Total all the individual entries to calculate the amount of incoming cash.

Cash going out. Make line item entries for the largest categories of expenses, combining as necessary. Total all individual entries to calculate the amount of outgoing cash.

Net inflow/outflow. Subtract your cash going out from your cash coming in to determine your net inflow or outflow.

Ending balance. Add the beginning balance to the net inflow/outflow number to get an idea of your cash position for each month.

Use historical data in addition to what’s on your calendar for the year ahead to help create your projections. Remember, you’re creating a time-based report, not simply averaging expenses and income over 12 months.

Be realistic about when cash will actually come in. If your big fundraiser is cash-based, you’ll have the money in the month of the event. But if you’re executing a fundraising campaign, donations can come in months after your initial mailings. Reflect that in your projections.

Other information to collect?

To complete your cash flow report, compile a total of your cash on hand and estimates of cash receipts and their due dates. You’ll also need to enter into the report payment amounts and schedules for personnel expenses (including salaries, wage increases, taxes and benefits).

Other data you’ll need includes consulting and professional services fees, occupancy charges (including rent and insurance), and office charges (including telephone service, equipment rental, service contracts and supplies). Last, be sure to include financing costs and all other expense categories (including travel, postage and printing).

Get help, if needed

We can help you devise your cash flow report and review maiden entries. We can walk you through the analysis process to help ensure that your reports are used to your nonprofit’s best advantage. Over time, the ability to successfully project and manage cash flows and positions — along with effectively managing the budget and having sufficient liquidity — will be key to your organization’s viability. 

SKR+CO Expert
Steve Hochstetter, CPA/ABV®, CFF™, CVA, Audit Partner
Steve has been in public accounting since 1983, with significant experience serving nonprofit organizations, healthcare organizations, governmental entities, and small to mid-size businesses.