Nonprofit Fund Accounting: Difference Between a Fund and a Program

Nonprofit fund accounting is based on funds and programs, but, what is the difference between a fund and a program?

Nonprofit Fund Accounting Classifications

In previous topics on nonprofit fund accounting we explained why nonprofits need to use fund accounting and its importance in presenting their financial statements. There is a lot of confusion as to what should be classified as a fund, and what should be classified as a program, or functional area when setting up your nonprofit accounting system.

With the new FASB regulations for nonprofit financial statement presentation, there are only two types of funds, or net assets

  • Unrestricted which contains revenue that has no restrictions placed on it by the donor, or the restrictions have been met.
  • With Donor Designations which contains all revenue that has restrictions placed on it by the donor, or grantor and those restrictions have not been met.

FASB Guidelines

Therefore, funds really should only be used to classify revenue. If you take a look at audited financial statements for a nonprofit that were prepared in compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and the new FASB guidelines, you will only see revenue in the restricted net asset classification. But, what you will see is Revenue Released from Restrictions when expenses are incurred and revenue is matched to the expense.

On these financial statements all expenses are classified in the Unrestricted fund.

Main Difference Between Funds and Programs

Funds are used for classifying revenue only, whereas Programs are used for categorizing your expenses by functional areas:

  • Programs
  • Support Services: Management and General, and Fundraising

So when setting up your nonprofit accounting system, remember programs are used to track your expenses, while funds are used to track the designation of your revenue.

Final Thoughts

A mistake made by some nonprofit organizations is to create a fund for every program, grant, mission, project, or other activity that they operate. All of those activities should not be classified as funds in your accounting system. The better way to track all of this activity is the use of program codes within the Unrestricted fund. With the proper set up, a program classification within a fund can properly track the designated revenue and associated expenses for all mission-based activity for your organization.

Nonprofits must get past the idea that everything they do should be classified as a separate fund.

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Originally published at FastFund Online Nonprofit Software.