The board of a charitable organization must institute policies and procedures to ensure that the organization (and, if applicable, its subsidiaries) manages and invests its funds responsibly, in accordance with all legal requirements. The full board should review and approve the organization’s annual budget and should monitor actual performance against the budget.
Overseeing an organization’s financial management is among the most important responsibilities of the board of directors. Board members should establish clear policies to protect the organization’s financial assets and ensure that the organization has strong internal controls that ensure no one person bears the sole responsibility for receiving, depositing, and spending its funds. Day-to-day accounting and financial management should be the task of staff or, in the case of organizations with no or one staff member, designated volunteers who have the necessary time and skills. The board is responsible for reviewing practices and reports to ensure that those staff or volunteers are adhering to the board-approved policies.
The organization’s annual budget should reflect the programs and activities the organization will undertake in the coming year and the resources it will need to raise or generate to support those activities. Careful review of regular financial reports showing both budgeted and actual expenditures and revenues will permit the board to determine whether adjustments must be made in spending to accommodate changes in revenues. Financial reports should also reflect how the organization has adhered to any restrictions placed on funds by donors or grant programs.
Prudent financial oversight requires that the board look beyond monthly or annual financial reports to consider how the organization’s current financial performance compares with that of previous years as well as to gauge its future prospects. If the organization’s net assets have been declining over a period of years, or if future funding seems likely to change significantly, the board may need to take steps to achieve or maintain stability.
Whenever possible, an organization should generate enough income to create cash reserves for its future. When an organization has built sufficient reserves to allow for investments, the board is responsible for establishing policies that govern how the funds will be invested and what portion of the returns, if any, can be used for immediate operations or programs. The boards of organizations with sizeable reserves or endowments generally select one or more independent investment managers to handle the organization’s investments. In those cases, the board or a committee of the board should monitor the outside investment manager(s) regularly.