Financial Statements – Balance Sheet

This is a pure accounting post – fair warning.

The balance sheet is a snapshot of your organization’s financial status at one specific moment in time, usually the end of the month for public purposes but it can be produced for any date of the month or year. The balance sheet is divided into three main sections: assets, liabilities, and equity. For non-profits, I have specific guidelines for each of these three areas; these guidelines differ from what you may see in other balance sheets but it has passed muster on decades of audits and reviews by Big Four audit firm audit partners.


  • Assets should only be cash assets. Cash assets means “money in the bank” – what you can actually spent as of the Balance Sheet date. My balance sheet has three lines for assets:
    • Checking account – I have one and only checking account. It is easier to reconcile and saves lots of time of transferring between banks. Having more money in one bank gives me more clout with that one bank – clout is good!
    • Endowment Fund or Foundation – this is a one-line summary of the endowment funds. The line item detail of the various sub-accounts is spelled out in the liabilities section of the balance sheet.
    • Petty Cash – if you have a petty cash bag somewhere in the church, that amount needs to show up in the assets. It’s not going to be much, between $50 and $250, but for good accounting records, you need to show that money.
  • What is not in the assets category?
    • Property, plant & equipment or PP&E (sometimes known as furnishings, fixtures and equipment) is one of the biggies not in there. Why? Because my experience is that someone will see that you have several million dollars of PP&E and say that the church already has millions of dollars in the bank. Trying to explain to Mr. or Mrs. Smith that PP&E is bricks and mortar and not dollars in a bank can be difficult. I just avoid the conversation altogether by omitting PP&E. I don’t ignore PP&E – one of the notes of the audited financial statements shows the insured value of the church’s PP&E. That should be based off of a valuation done within the past five years but it can be taken from the commercial property insurance contract for the church.
    • Depreciation is the other thing that is not in the assets. Depreciation is done purely for tax purposes. Since a non-profit does not file income taxes and thus does not take a deduction for depreciation, there is no need to record all the inventory and track all their depreciation. FYI, I track inventory differently – every few years I get a video inventory of the entire church, inside and out, so that if there is a disaster, the insurance company can value things from a picture and not from a written document. I make several copies of the video inventory and these copies are placed in several locations, onsite and offsite including with the insurance agent.
    • Accounts Receivable – I use the cash basis of accounting which means that I only record cash when it is received and when it is spent. Thus, I do not record receivables such as member pledges. People may pledge to give your non-profit some money, but there is no legal binding to require them to give you the money, only their conscience. Because I do not know if I will get their pledge or not, I do not record money until I receive it in the office. It keeps things neat and clean.
  • Liabilities are monies that are due to other organizations or are designated for a specific cause. I divide the liabilities section of a church’s balance sheet into several sections.
    • Payables are monies that are due to others. Typically the payables I have are for taxes, retirement, and other payroll withholding items.These are monies that were withheld from paychecks and the organization is holding them only until it is time to file with the proper authorities.
    • Donor Restricted Ministry Funds are funds that were given by people for a specific purpose such as the benevolent fund, the youth mission trip, a building campaign, etc. Legally, the non-profit can only spend the money on the cause to which the donor gave the money. If you spend the money on anything else without the permission of the donor, you’re in legal hot water (close to the boiling point!). I have this category because all of the funds in the donor restriction ministry fund section will be spent by church members or committees of the church. Members of the church will determine where and how the money will be spent.
    • Donor Restricted Missions Funds are funds that were given by people for a specific organization that is not located at the church. These funds will not be spent by church members or committees. Instead the monies are forwarded on several times a year to the appropriate organization who in turn will spend the money on their mission. Examples of these funds are national or international mission offerings and organizations with whom the church has an affinity but does not exercise control such as Habitat or a campground.
    • Church Designated Funds are funds the church set aside out of its budget and/or out of any funds leftover at the end of each budget year. Forward-thinking churches will establish reserve funds for major building maintenance items (think A/C units costing $30,000 each), office equipment (new computers), etc. The church is in complete control of these funds and can change when and how it spends these monies because these monies came from undesignated gifts.
      • A special mention to one fund. I am a strong proponent of establishing the “Unspent Ministry Fund” which is the church’s rainy day fund or emergency fund equivalent to 30, 60 or 90 days worth of revenues (whatever the church’s finance committee establishes). The source of these funds is the money that is “left over” at the end of each budget year. Instead of leaving it in the equity section of the church balance sheet, I clear out that figure to Unspent Ministry Funds. This helps in a several ways:
        • I can look at the equity line and see immediately how well (or not) the church is doing this year and
        • It clears out all profits and losses from prior years into this one fund
    • Endowment Fund or Foundation is the detail for all the various sub-accounts of the endowment fund or foundation.
      • My first presumption is that your church has a foundation – that will be a subject for a future post. If you don’t have a foundation or endowment fund, you need to get one this year – do not wait!!
      • Secondly, these sub-accounts show what the church and its members value by establishing a separate fund for a specific cause. These are the only permanently restricted accounts (for purposes of FASB 116 and 117). I work with donors to establish funds and then spend money from the fund according to their wishes. The church has ultimate control over these funds but they should spend them according to the donor’s desires. If you do that, you’ll get more money, guaranteed!


  • Church’s don’t have equity, right? Actually, they do. All the cash and all the bricks and mortar belong to the church members. If the church were to close its doors, they would have to figure out what to do with all the money and mortar. Before you think you can cash in on this, IRS regulations regarding 51(c)(3)s stipulate that the bylaws of the organization must name a successor non-profit to receive all the equity of a church should it fold.
  • The way that I use the equity section is not unique, just different. I don’t have any PP&E (see assets for that discussion) so several million dollars is missing from the equity. Instead, I have one line which shows the net surplus or deficit for the year. That one figure shows me at a glance how well or poorly we’re doing for this fiscal year – I don’t need to dig any further. The bottom line is truly the bottom line!
  • At the end of the year, I use the equity to fund several things if there is a surplus. Use the leftovers to pay for long-term things that you would otherwise not be able to afford. As I tell people, I can’t find $100,000 this year but I can find it in the next five years. Plan for the future by taking a little money each year so that at the end of several years you’ve got what you need.
    • The first thing I do is to ensure that the Unspent Ministry Fund is fully funded to the level stipulated by the finance committee.
    • The next this is to fund any reserve accounts or upcoming projects that need funding. Sometimes there are projects that need some extra money that wasn’t in the budget. Some times you need to set aside extra money for computers or a mission trip in a few years. Take a little each year and after three or four years, you’ll have the money for new children’s furniture or a youth trip to Scotland.
    • The last thing is to use the leftovers to pay for capital improvement projects in the following fiscal year. Every organization needs to spend money on its facilities but often the problem is they don’t know where to get the money. The annual “leftovers” is a great place to get them. Use that money, given by members for their church, to improve the church facilities. That will help you from needing a capital campaign to fix up the church buildings and you can tell members regularly during the year how you are spending their money to fix up their building.
Lead On!