I have recently written  about the importance of “Not-For-Profits and Transparency.”   Although preparing financial statements is the  organization’s responsibility, an independent audit of those statements can give granting agencies, donors and others confidence that the numbers are  accurate and properly reported.

CPA Performed Independent Audit

There are many  kinds of audits, including those conducted by state agencies, the Internal  Revenue Service  and lenders.  Here we’ll focus on audits of financial statements performed by independent CPA  firms.

There are two  types of independent audits. The most common is performed under Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS). The rules for GAAS audits not only include the testing of account  balances such as cash, payables, revenues and expenses, but also require a  consideration of fraud risk and an understanding of internal controls.

Organizations  that receive a significant amount of government funding also might be required to have a compliance audit performed under Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), OMB Circular A-133 or theYellow Book.”  This is required when the organization expends more than $500,000 in federal awards.

Why an Independent Audit?

Many states require Section 501(c)(3) organizations to have independent audits if they exceed legally defined amounts of revenue or specified levels of contributions.  Depending on the state, these thresholds can range from $100,000 to $2 million. Organizations not exceeding state limits may still be required to undergo an audit for a specific grant or funder.

When an organization has its financial statements audited, it receives an opinion on the statements and, if significant internal control deficiencies are found during the audit, a letter explaining them. Your auditors are required to understand how your internal controls were designed and whether they’re being used appropriately. Additionally, they can suggest ways to improve existing controls and specific measures to implement. It’s then your responsibility to act on their recommendations.

Other Potential Alternatives  

An organization that IS NOT required to be audited may nonetheless seek assurance about its financial statements and accounting controls. But if cost is an issue, there are alternatives to an independent GAAS audit. A not-for-profit may, for example, decide at the request of its finance committee to conduct some testing internally to review the support for financial transactions performed by management.

Or the nonprofit might decide to engage an independent CPA firm to perform an Agreed-Upon Procedures engagement (AUP). In an AUP engagement, the nonprofit and the CPA firm agree in advance on specific procedures, such as a review of all checks written over a specified dollar amount or a test of the controls surrounding transactions during a two-month period. The CPA firm reports the findings in a formal letter.

There are other alternatives to an audit of the financial statements under GAAS.  For organizations that can’t afford a Generally Accepted Auditing Standards audit of their financial statements but still want the input of an independent accounting firm, there are two other levels of service to consider:

  • Review. In a review, an independent CPA firm obtains the nonprofit’s financial statements, asks questions of management
    and performs certain analyses, including tests of revenue and expense change, functional expense percentages and liquidity, to determine whether the financial statements reflect expected results. The financial statements are provided along with the accountant’s review report.
  • Compilation. In a compilation, the CPA provides no tests or analysis but does ensure that the financial statements are prepared in a format consistent with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. A report attached to the financial statements explains that they were compiled from client records but not audited.

Both reviews and compilations allow for input from an outside CPA firm at a lower cost. While evaluation of internal controls is a required audit procedure, you might not receive any suggestions for improvement in controls with these levels of service.

Make Sure You are Compliant with Your Granting Agencies

Consult with granting agencies to determine which level of service they require. For help in determining what type of audit you’ll need, ask your accounting professional.

To see a video on the same topic click here.