An outside financial audit may seem like an extravagance to not-for-profits working to contain costs and focus on their mission. But undergoing regular audits allows your organization to identify risks early and act quickly to prevent problems.
Independent audits also provide valuable reassurance to donors. Fortunately, you can reduce the cost of external audits with good preparation.
Draft an RFP
Start by drafting a request for proposal (RFP) from prospective auditors. The RFP should describe your organization, its programs, major funding sources and the type of service you need. Once you select an auditor, the firm will provide an engagement letter outlining the scope of services to be performed and assign responsibility for various tasks to your staff or the auditors.
The preaudit meeting with your auditors comes next. Finance staff and management should attend, as well as representatives from your board of directors or audit committee. Those involved will draw up a timeline for the work, and the auditors can answer any questions about the information they’ll need.
During this meeting, inform the auditors of any changes in your nonprofit’s activities since you first met. Also communicate new or eliminated programs, new grant reporting requirements, and changes to internal controls and staff.
Collecting and organizing the documentation auditors need before they arrive saves them time and saves you money. Usually auditors will provide a list of documents — such as financial statements, accounting records, physical inventories and investment-related documents — and the date when each item is needed. Keeping accurate, complete and up-to-date records throughout the year will make this step much easier. And you’ll benefit from staying abreast of changes to the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s rules for nonprofits.
Auditors also need relevant organizational records such as articles of incorporation; financial policies; exemption letters; board meeting minutes; grant agreements, pledges and other funding documents; contracts; leases; and insurance policies. They usually appreciate having a current organizational chart, too. You should gather support for the footnote disclosures, as well. This includes documentation of significant estimates, pending litigation, restricted contributions and related-party transactions.
Don’t wait for auditors to find problems and ask questions. You can expedite the process and reduce costs when you identify and address issues before they’re raised by auditors.
After making year-end closing entries, reconcile all your schedules and workpapers to the trial balance and review for obvious anomalies. Double-check manual journal entries, accrual calculations, entries that require estimates, and in-kind donation valuations. Compare actual figures with budgeted ones and be ready to explain any significant variances.
Process Can be Affirming
Annual independent audits don’t have to be stressful. If you devote proper time and attention to accounting throughout the year, you may even find a financial audit affirming. Contact a trusted advisor with your audit questions.