A Charity’s Financial Management Starts in the Home by Erica McGeachy Crenshaw

May 2, 2014

Read the original blog here.

April is financial literacy month so it’s the perfect time to reflect on how much Americans know about their finances. As you can imagine, this knowledge translates directly to your ability to exercise proactive financial habits at the nonprofits you manage. Some of the statistics I’ll explore below will surprise you while some may be uncomfortably familiar. More importantly, each fact about our personal relationship with money signals where more education, training or consulting may be needed at home or in the workplace. After all, your nonprofits depend on you. 

According to the National Financial Literacy Survey, we don’t know much about personal finance. Here are the highlights from the 2014 survey. I’ve added nonprofit reflections after each highlight. 

61 percent of U.S. adults admit to not having a budget.   

“Financial experts generally agree that a budget is a basic tool of financial management, and without it, a person can more easily lose track of spending. Nonetheless, consumers appear reluctant to utilize this tool, which could explain why about one in three adults (34%) indicated their household carries credit card debt from month-to-month, with 15 percent, or more than 35 million people, admitted to rolling over $2,500 or more monthly.” 

In the nonprofit setting: While carrying credit card debt isn’t advisable at home, many financial experts acknowledge that it usually best to use a line of credit for gaps in your nonprofit rather than cash reserves. However, we caution leaders to only use a line of credit if they have a means for paying back the facility. Also, it should only be used to fill short-term slumps in cash. 

21 percent of U.S. adults are not sure about what information is on a standard credit report. 

“Most adults have not reviewed their credit score (60%) or their credit report (65%) within the past 12 months. Close to one in four adults who did not order their credit report in the past 12 months (23%) indicated that they already knew their credit score(s) so they didn’t need their credit report(s). Although related, credit reports and credit scores are two very different expressions of a person’s credit. Since each plays a critical role in a person’s financial future, they each merit at least an annual review. A further reflection of the confusion around credit reports and scores is that more than half of all U.S. adults (54%) mistakenly believe that a standard credit report typically contains a person’s credit score(s).”

In the nonprofit setting: Nonprofits thankfully don’t have to stand and be counted when it comes to credit scores or reports but other evaluative measures like GuideStar and Charity Navigator are fast becoming a source of information for the constituencies your nonprofit serves. Unfortunately, sites like these laud nonprofits’ low administrative fees-a failure on the sector’s part to focus donors on truer key performance indicators like impact. Additionally, donors who want to dig deeper are more commonly referencing required reports like the IRS’ 990 Form. Nonprofits should regularly enlist trusted board members to read its 990 tax form to objectively interpret what story the report is telling. It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to accidentally omit crucial information or misguidedly include elements that confuse a curious donor.  

41% of U.S. adults give themselves a grade of C, D or F on their knowledge of personal finance.  

“…Spending beyond what can be responsibly repaid … and an admitted lack of knowledge pertaining to personal finance are red flags that demand attention and the need for financial education. When asked why they would not reach out to a professional non-profit credit counseling agency for help if they were having financial problems related to debt, about one in four adults (24%) say they can resolve their own problems without outside help, while more than one in four (27%)…indicated that they would reach out to a professional non-profit credit counseling agency for help.”

In the nonprofit setting: Many small agencies push financial diligence to the corner of their desks due to lack of staffing and resources or wait until the night before a board meeting for crunch time. Equally guilty are large nonprofits when they let their complex procedures overrun the importance of standardizing reporting, creating systems or engaging in valuable forecasting. Education, training and consulting are readily available tools nonprofits can leverage.

The need for financial education is great.

Take this month to consider how some of these abysmal personal finance statistics may have migrated to your workplace. Ask yourself how you could help your cause with a little instruction given by someone who is professionally trained in this area. Perhaps the professional systems you put in place at work can positively influence your spending and saving habits at home–a fitting benefit since many charities’ financial habits are rooted in our personal finance practices. This relationship gives a whole new meaning to “charity starts in the home.”


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