Internal Controls Made Easy for Nonprofit CEOs

by | Apr 27, 2016

CEOs, or executive directors, are focused on meeting the mission of the nonprofit. Finance directors and CFOs often find it a challenge to get the attention of the organizational leader to ensure strong internal controls are in place. This stewardship of resources by the CEO often goes unfulfilled as other, more seemingly pressing duties, take day-to-day precedence.

How to bridge a nonprofit’s internal controls and the organization’s leaders

I recently ran across an article on the Greater Washington Society of CPAs Educational Foundation website that gave a very simple list of ways to put the monitoring of internal controls in front of the CEO.

Read and, more importantly, study the monthly financial reports

The repetition of this exercise will make the task easier every month. Accounting at most nonprofits is pretty predictable and if something does not make sense, there likely is something wrong. Preparing a summary of variances and unpredictable items in the monthly financials is helpful for growth. It will also help with understanding when the financial reports are not the strength of the CEO.

Review the monthly bank and investment statements and reconciliations

CEOs should be given online access to bank accounts. This way, they can randomly review activity during a month or quarter. In addition, the CEO should review the monthly bank reconciliations. The intention should not be to review every detailed transaction, but, again, to look for anomalies. Also, for the finance department to be aware that someone else will be looking at cash transactions.

Review your nonprofit’s payroll reports on a periodic basis

Just as it is important for the CEO to have access to reviewing cash transactions, the CEO should review payroll transactions for reasonable wages and to make sure the staff paid are on staff.

Review organizational credit card activity and expense report on a periodic basis

These are areas where it is pretty easy for fraudulent transactions to occur. Again, with staff and the finance department aware that the CEO is reviewing transaction activity, it can prevent or make fraudulent purchases less likely to occur. Furthermore, there are several applications available to streamline the submission of credit card activity and expense reports. These also include extensive reporting and approval processes.

Listen to external and internal feedback from your nonprofit’s constituents and staff

The finance department interacts with both of these groups and the CEO is in a great position to solicit feedback on the performance and interactions with the department.

As finance directors, we hear these requirements from the auditors every year. Many of us experience the same challenges in engaging the CEO in understanding and following through on the stewardship requirements of that position. Maybe, starting these simple internal control steps will increase that engagement.

A CEO does not need to be a finance expert; they hire the finance department for that. However, having an approach, while reviewing the 5 simple controls listed above, is a positive step toward engagement. Finally, keep in mind, “if something doesn’t make sense, it’s probably a good idea to question.”

Laura Jorstad
Managing Principal
NFP Partners