While it may appear that the treasurer of a nonprofit organization does nothing more than appear at the board meeting with the financial report in hand, many of the duties and responsibilities of a nonprofit treasurer happen behind the scenes. The treasurer is an officer of the board of directors. It’s an important position because the board entrusts the treasurer to manage public funds.
The person who fills the position of treasurer must be a person of great trust and integrity. Before many donors or grant-makers are willing to offer funds to a nonprofit organization, they may request to see the organization’s budget and financial reports. A review of the reports tells them about the organization’s budget constraints and spending habits. Financial reports also indicate the financial health of the organization, regardless of the size of the budget. It’s important that treasurers prepare financial reports that are clear, accurate and timely, which helps to earn public trust in the organization.
While many of a treasurer’s duties involve accounting and banking, an effective nonprofit treasurer is always thinking about how the organization’s finances connect with the overall mission.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Nonprofit Treasurer
A nonprofit treasurer is the lead board director of financial management and oversight. In most organizations, the treasurer has a close working relationship with other officers like the board president and secretary.
Some of the basic duties of the nonprofit treasurer aren’t very different from those of managing your personal finances and budget at home. The treasurer usually opens the bank account, manages cash flow and reconciles bank statements.
An effective nonprofit treasurer will develop systems for ensuring the organization’s solvency. For example, if membership renewals tend to be high in a particular month, the treasurer may select that month to pay necessary bills like directors’ and officers’ insurance or other anticipated expenses. The treasurer should be prepared to explain all outstanding debts and bills at any time.
The treasurer takes the lead in helping the rest of the board form financial policies such as who can access funds, who has check-signing authority, how expenses get reimbursed, use of the organization’s credit card and handling of small cash expenses. Typically, nonprofit organizations require at least two signatures by board officers to process checks. Many organizations also place a cap on writing checks over a certain amount, like $50 or $100.
Some types of nonprofit organizations may be able to invest funds. The treasurer takes the responsibility for investing the organization’s funds and making sure that they are following all federal, state and local laws in this regard.
All nonprofit organizations are required to conduct an annual audit. The treasurer and one or more board directors usually participate in the audit, and the treasurer prepares the audit report.
Larger nonprofit organizations may form a finance committee. In this case, the treasurer chairs the finance committee and makes recommendations for a co-chair and other committee members.
Because of a nonprofit organization’s heavy focus on fundraising, it’s necessary to have a competent person available to fill the position of treasurer at all times. Succession planning for the position of treasurer is vitally important. The current treasurer usually takes the lead on planning for their own succession or offers up recommendations to the nominating committee.
Managing the Nonprofit’s Budget
Board directors rely on the organization’s budget to drive their decision-making and to help inform the organization’s goals. Responsible boards usually have questions about the budget, particularly when there are large expenditures or unusual variances. The treasurer should be prepared to answer all questions about the budget before the board approves it.
In addition to maintaining the budget, the treasurer also prepares a financial report for the board’s review at every board meeting. A regular duty of the treasurer is to monitor the budget and continually compare actual expenses against budgeted expenses.
Preparing Financial Reports and Filing Legal Forms
The treasurer should learn as much as possible about financial ratios and how to create understandable reports. In addition, the treasurer is the front-line person to inform the rest of the board about important financial events, national or global trends, and any other financial concerns.
The IRS requires nonprofit organizations to file Form 990 by the 15th day of the 5th month after the end of the organization’s accounting period. The treasurer takes responsibility for making sure this form gets filed by the proper due date. The other board members are also responsible for this filing. Board members may request financial filing forms and other financial reports from the treasurer at any time.
California nonprofits must take special note of state laws for nonprofit organizations. California state law requires nonprofits to have a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). If an organization doesn’t have a CFO, the state considers the treasurer as the CFO.
Helpful Tips for Nonprofit Treasurers
It helps treasurers and the nonprofit organizations they serve to establish robust internal controls and financial management policies. Clearly stated financial policies that boards enforce consistently benefit everyone and leave nothing to chance.
Accounting should be accurate, complete and up-to-date at all times because board members or others may need to access it quickly. Treasurers should keep a calendar of important dates and filing deadlines, including the deadlines for Form 990 and filing tax returns. Nonprofit boards should also have a backup plan for making sure the organization meets deadlines in case the treasurer is ill or is not available for board business unexpectedly.
Nonprofit organizations usually conduct an audit annually, but certain situations may call for an audit sooner than the annual date. Treasurers need to be available to participate in audits whenever the board needs one or an audit is advised.
It is prudent and wise for the treasurer to limit access to the organization’s funds because any hint of fraud or suspicious spending will negatively impact a nonprofit. Allegations of such activity may lead to investigations, poor reputation and possible loss of nonprofit status.
Treasurers and other board members should bear in mind that it’s unlawful for anyone to practice law without a license, so they should never give specific legal or tax advice to donors about donations. The only advice board members should give is for donors to seek advice from their lawyers or tax advisers.
The treasurer’s job isn’t any more difficult or time-consuming than any other board officer position. The job is best filled by someone who has a knack for accounting and finance. It’s also preferable for the treasurer to have knowledge about nonprofits, but that’s a requirement that someone can learn on the job, if necessary. It’s more important to fill the role with someone who holds honesty and integrity in high esteem and who is committed to accuracy, transparency and timeliness.
Want to learn more about the other roles and responsibilities of board directors at a nonprofit? Download our recent white paper to get an in-depth look at nonprofit boards.