Clarise vs. Admin Expenses

The Dreaded Administration Question

Q:  How much does your organization spend on administration?
A:  Actually we spend no money on administration at all.  We run our operations from a park bench and send all of our email using the free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s.

OK, maybe sarcasm isn’t the right approach to answering that question. What about ducking it?

Q:  How much does your organization spend on administration?
A:  Our administration expenses are covered by our investment income, allowing all of our donated funds to be used in our charitable operations.

Many organizations have used that approach, particularly when they have significant endowments (e.g. universities) or cash flow (performing rights organizations), but what do you do when your investments lose money, e.g. 2008?

An accountant will tell you that allocating a set of expenses to investment income is arbitrary, unless there has been a specific donor designation to do so.  It is a risky way to go.

How about reality?

Q:  How much does your organization spend on administration?
A:  Spending money on administration is something we watch vigilantly.  We constantly look for ways of saving money because every dollar spent on administration is a dollar taken from programs.  Currently, our administration and governance costs are $X, which represents Y% of the total budget.

In a word:  boring.  This won’t stand up to the social media rumors about how much the Executive Director makes or the lavish board lunches.  It’s the same message the stakeholders have heard for years.


So, what should a charity do?  Here is some radical advice from an accountant:  get ahead of the issue and tackle it head on with a series of cost-saving initiatives.  At the annual meeting every year, give your Treasurer their moment in the sun as they announce the results of last year’s initiative, as well as the new initiative for next year.

What I mean by cost-saving initiatives:

  • Vendor pricing – consolidate our purchasing power and renegotiate contracts, e.g. we achieved a 10% cost reduction by accumulating all of the orders from our locations across the country into one contract.
  • Manual processes – the search for redundant or time consuming processes, e.g. we increased the number of cases each caseworker can see in a day by replacing the paperwork with a confidential dictation service.
  • Human resources – making sure that the pay levels are appropriate for the work being done, e.g. every five years we check the work being performed against local industry averages to be sure that our salaries and wages are appropriate for the work performed. This review ensures that staff are being fairly compensated and that they know it, so that we maintain a stable team with no unnecessary turnover.
  • Automation – ensuring that the organization is leveraging staff time (typically the biggest expense) by the smart use of technology, e.g. we looked at the number of hours our senior staff was spending creating manual spreadsheets for individual grant reporting and recommend a project system, setting up each grant as a separate project.
  • Strategic alliances – team up with other organizations to combine purchasing power and reduce administration, e.g. sharing space and staff in a warehouse instead of maintaining separate facilities.
Q:  How much does your organization spend on administration?
A:  You should see Bob’s report.  Our Treasurer is a bulldog where saving money is concerned.



How do you get there?

Start with the Canada Revenue Agency definition ( ):

  • Holding meetings of the board of directors;
  • Accounting, auditing, personnel, and other administrative services;
  • Buying supplies and equipment, and paying occupancy costs for administrative offices;
  • Applying for grants or other types of government funding; and
  • Applying for gifts from other qualified donees (usually foundations).

Make sure your financial reports highlight the spending in these areas to the people who are in control of these costs.  If the costs are all split up and allocated to different cost centres or departments, it will be difficult to get anyone to take responsibility for them.

Working with the management team, start to plot out several cost-saving strategies and decide which one to focus on each year for the next few years.  You want to be sure that you will have something positive to report.  Sometimes there are obvious ways to save money, but if the organization is reasonably efficient, many initiatives will take more than one year to show results.  The management teams needs to understand how serious this issue is to funders, particularly individual donors, so make it one person’s responsibility and be sure that there are regular progress reports.

Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below on what has worked (or not worked!) for your organization when launching or reporting on cost-saving initiatives.  Thanks!

Posted in Accounting, Clarise

Clarise’s First Day

Culture Shock

Picture a charity boardroom, at night.  Around the table sits a group of tired looking volunteers.  It has been a long evening sorting through the charity’s management issues.  Promised funding has not come through, so the financial situation is tense.  The issue before them is whether they should hire an Executive Director.  You see, the charity has no employees.  They hire contractors to work with the clients, but all the management positions are staffed with volunteers.  And they are burning out.  The Board members discuss what the Executive Director’s duties will be.  All of a sudden, the room is alive with ideas, as the volunteer Board members sing out their most frustrating tasks.  The loan holdout, the Treasurer (me), gives in and reluctantly votes for the motion.  It carries unanimously.

Many of the managers and Executive Directors I have met in my work with charities have been thrust into their position.  They signed up because of a deeply felt desire to help people, not to complete endless government reporting forms, interpret financial statements, stickhandle interpersonal conflicts, approve invoices, attend long meetings or budget for the future.  But that’s what management is.  The good thing about working in the nonprofit sector is that you don’t have to let go of all of the grass roots activities.  Most managers roll up their proverbial sleeves and work directly with clients and volunteers.  Not only does it help keep them grounded in the charity’s mission, but it’s also a necessity:  charities are perennially understaffed.

What was your first day like?

If you are in management, how do you stay grounded?


PS:  If you’re wondering about the story above, it has a happy ending.  The charity went on to hire an Executive Director and she did a truly wonderful job of turning around the financial situation and increasing the number of people served.  It was the best outcome for the charity and I am so glad they convinced me to support it.

Posted in Clarise

Clarise – A Charity Management Comic Strip

Welcome to Clarise, a comic strip that explores serious issues about charity management in a non-serious way.  A recent social work graduate, Clarise took a position as the new Executive Director (and only employee) of the Dogoode Foundation.  Follow her adventures as she learns how to navigate the sea of charity management and please share your own experiences (without naming names, of course) so we can all learn together.

Posted in Clarise

Non-Profits and Tax

Non-Profits and Tax

Posted in Accounting, Charity, Not For Profit, Tax

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Five Reasons Charity Collaborations Are Good for Entrepreneurs and Small Business #nonprofit

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Social Innovation – An Accountant’s Perspective

Social Innovation is about changing systems at their root, about looking at how things are done and making them better, not just for customers, but for everyone. Yet even the most socially conscious system needs financial accountability. My goal is to build accounting software and procedures into Social Innovation projects in their infancy, when they most need the support.

Innovators don’t often have experience with administration or accountability.  They have to focus on the development, engineering and deployment of their innovation.  Who has time to do paperwork?  Yet, it’s the paperwork, tracking test results, managing projects, filing government forms, reporting to funders and securing financing that keep the project going.

You don’t have to go far to see problems that need innovation.  In my city, Toronto, there is a housing crisis and crumbling infrastructure.   There isn’t enough public transit.  There is both a lack of skilled workers and unacceptably high unemployment.  There is all kinds of room to implement bright ideas, in engineering, planning and legislation, to name a few.

As an accountant, it’s exciting to get involved with something new, to face the challenges of imposing financial discipline, without killing the innovation, to develop new processes that help both the innovator and the investor.  I’m a bean counter and sometimes I have to redefine the beans as well as count them.  That’s why I call what I do, “Energized Accounting.”

Posted in Accounting, Charity, Leadership, Not For Profit, Value For Money Tagged with:

HST & Donations – 2016 Budget Changes

GST/HST on Donations to Charities

The GST/HST does not apply to a donation if the donor does not receive anything in return. However, if the donor receives property or services in exchange for the donation, even if the value of the donation exceeds the value of the offered property or services, the GST/HST generally applies on the full value of the donation. (A number of exceptions to this treatment apply, including where the service or property offered by the charity relates to a special fundraising event, such as a gala dinner, annual cookie sale or charity auction, or where the charity provides the donor goods that were previously gifted to the charity. Such supplies are exempt from GST/HST. In addition, a charity that qualifies as a “small supplier” (e.g., makes under $50,000 of taxable sales annually) is not required to collect GST/HST.)

Special rules are provided under the Income Tax Act to deal with transactions where property or services are supplied in exchange for or in recognition of a donation to a charity. Under the Income Tax Act “split-receipting” rules, where a charity encourages or recognizes a donation by supplying property or services in exchange, the charity generally may issue a donation receipt for the amount paid by the donor less the value of any property or service that the donor receives. Consequently, such donations are treated less favourably under the GST/HST than under the Income Tax Act.

To bring the GST/HST treatment of this type of exchange into line with the treatment under the Income Tax Act split-receipting rules, Budget 2016 proposes a relieving change to provide that when a charity supplies property or services in exchange for a donation and when an income tax receipt may be issued for a portion of the donation, only the value of the property or services supplied will be subject to GST/HST. The proposal will apply to supplies that are not already exempt from GST/HST. It will ensure that the portion of the donation that exceeds the value of the property or services supplied is not subject to the GST/HST.

This measure will apply to supplies made after Budget Day.

In addition, where a charity did not collect GST/HST on the full value of donations made in exchange for an inducement, for supplies made between December 21, 2002 (when the income tax split-receipting rules came into effect) and Budget Day, the following transitional relief will be provided:

  • If GST/HST was charged on only the value of the inducement, consistent with the income tax split-receipting rules, or if the value of the inducement was less than $500, the donors’ and charities’ GST/HST obligations will effectively be satisfied, resulting in no further GST/HST owing.
  • In other cases, the charity will be required to remit GST/HST on the value of the inducement only (i.e., the relieving split-receipting rules will apply).

Source:  Government Budget Document



The Minister of Finance tabled the Government’s 2016 Federal Budget on March 22, 2016. There are few tax measures in Budget 2016 that impact registered charities, which are highlighted below, and none for non-profit organizations (NPOs).

Registered Charities

  • Investments by Registered Charities in Limited Partnerships: Budget 2016 confirms the Government’s intention to proceed with the measure announced in Budget 2015 which allows registered charities to acquire or hold passive investments in limited partnerships.
  • Donations Involving Private Company Shares or Real Estate: Budget 2016 announces the Government’s intention not to proceed with the measure announced in Budget 2015 that would provide an exemption from capital gains tax for certain dispositions of private company shares or real estate where cash proceeds from the disposition are donated to a registered charity within 30 days.  The removal of this capital gains exemption will come as a disappointment for some in the charitable sector.
  • GST/HST on Donations to Charities: In addition to the exemptions available for many goods and services provided by charities, Budget 2016 proposes a relieving change to provide that when a charity supplies property or services in exchange for a donation and when an income tax receipt may be issued for a portion of the donation, only the value of the property or services supplied will be subject to GST/HST. The proposal will ensure that the portion of the donation that exceeds the value of the property or services supplied is not subject to GST/HST. It also brings the GST/HST treatment of this type of exchange into line with the split-receipting rules under the Income Tax Act.
  • Political Activities: Budget 2016 also confirms the Government’s commitment to review and clarify the rules governing political activities of charities. The Canada Revenue Agency, in consultation with the Department of Finance, will engage with charities through discussions with stakeholder groups and an online consultation.

Source:  BLG Commentary

Posted in Charity, Tax Tagged with: ,

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Building Client Loyalty in the “Age of Disruption” Even #accounting gets disrupted!

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For years now, we’ve been talking about how our profession is poised on the brink of massive changes, driven primarily by the explosive growth of digital technology. We have successfully … [Read More…]


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