Profit Archives - TurnAround Executive Coaching

There are four long-term sources of financing for nonprofits – Fee for Service, Government Grants and Contracts, Donor Advised Funds, and Charitable Giving.

The 990 does not make this information available easily. On Page 1, they blend charitable donations with government contracts*, Schedule B is a report of all donors over $5,000 and frequently that report is simply submitted as ‘Restricted.’  1019_5901001

It’s easy to miss the point on the 990 that the four funding sources are quite different from each other and virtually no agency in the study was skilled in attracting funds from all four sources.

Charitable Giving – Non profits began in the 1800’s with charitable gifts. Often, wealthy people formed a group and funded it with gifts for orphans, destitute, etc. The charity did not begin to match the needs at that time. As ethnic groups got larger, smaller nonprofits served particular groups from a language, religious, or cultural background. Slowly, many of the oldest nonprofits (universities, for example) built endowments that were powerful and independent sources of funds. Investment money flowed from charitable gifts.

Fee For Service – Hospital fees, tuition for universities, and other fees (excluding Medicare and Medicaid) make up almost half of nonprofit income. Since hospitals and higher education nonprofits have little in common with funding sources for other nonprofits, it’s fair to say that about 10% of nonprofit income is from fee for service.

Government Grants and Contracts – States, Localities, and Federal Government increased funding in the 1960’s. The first decades were slow increases with few regulations. With budget cutting in the 1980’s, governments started regime funding – close control of process, less volunteers, and more professionals. The administrative requirements of regime funding were not calculated in costing. The idea returned to the 1800s model that the social sector must be funded in part by charitable gifts.

Donor Advised Funds – The top 20% of the population is accumulating wealth and the top 1% even more so. This concentration is leading to Giving Clubs and Donor Advised Funds where gifts produce very specific purposes and outcomes. The benefit of these funds is that they empower agencies with clear agendas and the possibility of an independent voice. The benefit can also be a liability if agendas don’t uphold values such as equality and justice for all.

With that background, what does the study of 990s show?

  • Healthy nonprofits augment government contracts with either charitable gifts or fee for service of at least 10% of total revenue. This additional financing can be used to pay for strategic investments and funds payroll when government is slow to pay.
  • Nonprofits that started in the 1980-2000 years of growth in government funding often pay little attention to other sources of money. They tend to have smaller boards who may not have an individual mandate to contribute. With regime requirements increasing, the government funded nonprofits are close to merger, acquisition, or bankruptcy.
  • Revenue is vanity. One nonprofit with revenue of $70 million and growing quickly is 1.5 payrolls behind. While they may use a line of credit to offset the immediate need, the growth and size do not give them protection for the long term. The funding mix is far more important than the size of revenue.
  • Charitable gifts generally have a practical collection limit of $5 million in the nonprofits studied. Growth above $50 million in revenue requires a revenue stream from Fee for Service to keep government contracts revenue under 90% of total revenue.
  • Two new nonprofits report charitable gifts of $11 and $14 million. These represent Donor Advised giving. Both nonprofits are growing above 20% per year and already have a major voice in education reform and biological diversity.


Government is a major force in financing the social sector. In most cases, the contract triggers agency wide changes to comply. Boards of directors become financial watchdogs instead of protectors of the vision. Ironically, the nonprofits which are failing are those who are the most compliant with government demands!

Healthy nonprofits have to overcome the barrier of multiple funding streams in order to thrive. 10% of total revenue from charitable gifts and fee for service almost guarantees that you won’t run out of cash. And cash is cash!



*Government contracts are considered donations because there is no exchange with the public. I would argue that improvement of a person and the taxes later received do create the exchange 😊

What is the effect of a long-term CEO and management team on a nonprofit? What is the effect of a board with relatively little turnover? The 990 reports the name and position of each board member and senior manager annually. Let’s compare the lists over a 4 year period (2013-2016). Unfortunately, the truth is a wise and subtle mix of factors

  1. Effect of Long-Term CEO – The vision of an effective CEO is one of the magic quantities needed to produce success.
      1. One CEO in the study is in the 8th year of service. The nonprofit has more than doubled in revenue during that time to almost $30 million. Positive news articles have been written and many local school districts have signed contracts. These effective managers are rare outside of medicine and higher education (and not common anywhere – just ask Penney’s and S
      2. ears!). He has been able to articulate strategy, keep the leadership moving together, and has grown in his own skills to manage a much larger company.
      3. Unfortunately, another nonprofit with news reports about corruption also has a long-serving management team with board and management retention at 100% over 4 years. One way not to get caught is if you never leave!
      4. Another nonprofit lost its way and the recent audit has a ‘going concern’ paragraph. I had only heard about them! This is a first. The founder stayed for 30 years and did not grow in capacity to match the growth and challenge of the $9 million agency.1019_4231589


  2. Effect of a Long-Term Board – The growth companies in the study had board retention rates in the 80% range.
    1. A nonprofit incubated by people from Harvard has a board retention rate of 94% over 4 years. The annual revenue growth rate for this nonprofit is 127% annually.
    2. Nonprofits in existence over 25 years have more trouble keeping board members. They have a retention rate of about 50%. Many are teetering with ill-planned financing.
    3. New successful nonprofits benefit from a startup with a skilled CEO and Board chair. One promising startup in stress has a board retention rate of about 10%. The Board Chair was inexperienced and could not drive the board to support the agency in networks.


An effective leader and an effective board chair drive success. Effective boards need term limits, additional volunteer committees, and board members committed to learning.

Effective management requires a leader with time to preach a vision, arrange a team for flawless execution, and work with the board for abundant cash to fuel growth. There is often a plan for succession in these nonprofits. One consultant said that successful nonprofits hire management from within. It reduces the shock of succession. Normal succession with an outsider has a management turnover of 50% within 18 months. This is necessary when the nonprofit is stressed.

Note to all: The CEO/ED job is challenging. A business coach can help and contact me if you need support to go through this process.

This is the 5th of 10 articles on Sundays that look at the 990s to understand what is happening to nonprofits in general and give you some data for your own nonprofit. Today, the focus is on the ability of companies to make payroll. Is your next paycheck safe?

I advocate for nonprofits to set a 10% surplus target. Greg Crabtree has the same advice for privately owned companies.  We are both worried about the bills that accumulate while waiting for cash to settle them.

  • For companies that make a product, the operating cycle begins when inventory has to be purchased or built. Bills have to be paid. A sale occurs, but cash still may not appear until merchandise is shipped and the cash is transferred. The entire period has to be financed.
  • For nonprofits, late payments by government can create a cash lag of months or years. Meanwhile, payroll has to be paid.

The largest nonprofit in the study so far, Children’s Village, has an Accounts Receivable of 27% of Revenue and only 3 days of its next payroll on hand in unrestricted cash. There are 1,319 people on staff!

In a study of 14 nonprofits of various sizes ($1 million – $85 million revenue), 7 nonprofits showed a decline in the ability to make payroll over 4 years. The worst performer was over 2 months in cash arrears on payroll.232_2895318

What can nonprofits do?

  1. They borrow from their restricted funds with the promise to repay
  2. They borrow from prepaid tuition and fees or prepaid money on government contracts
  3. They finance up to 75% of the collectible cash from government with a line of credit at a bank
  4. They blend methods and simply tell staff that payroll will be late.

Any company with less than two payrolls in the bank in cash is putting the wellbeing of families in jeopardy who depend on regular checks. Richard Reeves tells us that jobs that pay less than $120,000 face an increasingly expensive middle class lifestyle with more and more income insecurity.

Nonprofits have missions to do good – and that includes generous treatment of staff.

Calculate your own cash for payrolls from your 990:

  • Copy the number from Page 1, line 15 and divide by 26 to find the Cash for One Payroll.
  • Copy the numbers from Page 11, lines 1 and 2, to discover total Cash on Hand at End of Year.
    • Subtract from the Cash on Hand, restricted assets on page 11, lines 28 and 29 to find Unrestricted Cash.
  • Divide Unrestricted Cash by Cash for One Payroll.

If you have 4 payrolls in the bank, you have time to maneuver if bad days arrive. If you have less and less payrolls in the bank, you need to make a plan. Scaling Up business coaching creates a plan in 90 days, a quick win in the 2nd quarter and a 20% growth in revenue in the 2nd year.  We’re here for you!



Are Your Assets Resting?

Why would you buy a truck or a bus for your company and fail to use it?  Why would you hire a new accountant and fail to use her? We are supposed to buy fixed assets and employ people and get more money back than we spent. Nonprofits will focus on social impact as well as cash. That’s fine but some nonprofits find it easy to spend other people’s money for things of little value.

The 990 tells whether assets are being purchased or employed wisely.neonbrand-258972-unsplash


Each industry has its own range of the dollars returned in profit divided by the Assets. For profit education companies average 5%. The beverage industry is 9%.

The nonprofits studied have a return of assets of about 3%. That means that each $100 of investment in assets returns about $3 in profit. That is a lot lower than the industry ranges mentioned above because the corporate tax rate has been 35%! It’s fair to say that nonprofits actually do divert resources to the social sector that are returned in some other metric.

Two concerns emerge:

  • Nonprofits that are less than 10 years old have a return on assets in the 20% range. Since they are probably carrying fixed assets with little accumulated depreciation – why are they so much more effective in acquiring assets that actually return the cost of investment? Are newer nonprofits born in a more competitive time in the nonprofit industry and will be stronger structurally?
  • The historic nonprofits over 25 years old show returns as low as 3%. If they own heavily depreciated buildings or other long term assets, their return of 3% may be inflated. It could be closer to 0%.

Human Assets

In a post-industrial age, the real asset of any company is the compensation budget and the human resource that it represents. One way to measure effective hiring is to relate the total revenue to the dollars spent on compensation. If you hire a new staff member for $100,000, it’s clear that you have to raise at least $100,000 more in revenue to support the position. The labor efficiency ratio is usually between 2 and 7, depending on industry.

The formula used in the study is total revenue / total compensation.

Nonprofits are low, regardless of size.

  • Some of the lowest include nonprofits in existence for 25+ years that have limited federal funds. For example, one reported an average of 1.26 over four years. This means that only 26 cents were left after payroll for rent, materials, food, office, etc. An overemphasis on payroll indicates poor program quality.
  • The lowest reported (1.22) was family operated which probably means that they drain the nonprofit of cash by paying three sisters in management very well. Since it’s a special needs daycare, I pity the recipients of the services.
  • Regulated nonprofits (child care) will have lower labor efficiency ratios because of required staffing and credentials. Companies such as McDonald’s have few staff requirements other than the practical matter of getting hot food to customers quickly.
  • New nonprofits (under 10 years) tend to produce more money per staff member hired and spend more money on program (labor efficiency ratio of 1.7 – 2). This doesn’t mean that they pay staff poorly – they have enough money to do everything
  • Nonprofits with growth rates of 20%+ per year have labor efficiency ratios of 1.5 – 2. This seems reasonable. They are saving money for program and rent. They have budget balance.

A labor efficiency ratio under 1.4 is a danger signal. The income may be critically lacking for required infrastructure. There may be undue influence of board or management to drain resources. Accrediting and regulatory agencies should measure program quality carefully.


The only way for nonprofits to serve and succeed in mission is through wise use of assets.  When the financial return on assets is too low, it will reduce cash and destabilize the nonprofit. Older nonprofits generally seem to need more business training to approach 5% or more return on assets.

Labor efficiency is a critical asset because almost all companies spend most of their budget on payroll. When a budget is set up with less than $1.40 coming back in cash for every $1.00 spent on payroll, there is not enough money left to pay rent, insurance, and program supplies.

Younger nonprofits appear to be more nimble. They are less burdened with nonproductive assets and save enough money (aside from payroll) to finance quality program supplies and infrastructure.

Success = monitoring return on assets and labor efficiency.


I’m doing a 990 study. Each Sunday for 10 weeks, I will give out one insight for leaders. Most people ignore the 990 and its 16 additional schedules. Life is too short to do all that reading!

Let’s start with a critical number – Net Income or Surplus. To start a company, cash is the1019_4272975 key number. To buy a building or equipment, cash is key. Banks loan cash. Investors give cash. Customers pay in advance. But to keep a company going, there has to be a consistent profit or surplus which is the best source of cash. .

What Profit Do You Need?
What’s the required surplus for a business to stay in business indefinitely? Most businesses will soon be gone if there are year over year deficits, on life support with less than 5% surplus, and healthy over 10%. Why not profit of $1?
The income statement (Statement of Activities) does not include the cash that you need to keep investing in the business. Computers and cars need to be replaced. Technology is a huge investment. The surplus provides the cash to invest in new assets. Business owners will also want a profit on the money that they put into the business. Why would you put $500,000 into your business and not expect an annual return? That cash eventually has to come from profit.

Nonprofits/NGOs need 10% surplus to be sustainable for the some of the same reasons. But Nonprofits have a special additional burden.  Nonprofits usually show more profit than cash because government pays so late. Let’s say that you make a profit of $100,000 this year. How much of that cash is in your bank on the last day of the year? Possibly $0 or less if government is involved!  Nonprofits need a 10% surplus with the expectation that their cash account will stay above $0!

You may be lucky and have a lot of depreciation and bad debt allowance on your income statement. Why do we like depreciation? Because it’s not a cash item.   Let’s assume that your revenue is $10 million. 10% profit will be $1 million. That’s a challenge! But let’s assume also that you bought a $5 million dollar electrical system that has a ten year life for depreciation but it will probably be working 20 years from now. Your income statement has a $500,000 charge for depreciation already so a 5% surplus ($500,000) and the depreciation ($500,000) is a fairly safe combination for the present.

Non profits in particular are usually happy if they have a $1 surplus. This is not a plan for the long term.

Today’s example is a nonprofit started in 1953. $45 million in revenue last year. Payroll of $1.4 million and 14 days of expenses in cash in the bank. Limited depreciation and an average of 1% profit over 4 years.   If the CEO quit, would you enthusiastically apply for that job?

Scaling Up business coaching creates a plan in 90 days, a quick win in the 2nd quarter and a 20% growth in revenue in the 2nd year.  Until next Sunday, keep your eyes on surplus!

If you want One Minute TurnArounds by email, please sign up!

GDPR – Your email is collected by an automated system so that the One Minute Manager posts can be sent. You will be invited twice a year to a two hour Scaling Up workshop for CEOs and EDs. Annually, you will be offered an Ebook and asked whether the resources of TurnAround Business Coaching are helpful.

A maximum of 10 companies per year develop a relationship for Business Coaching to turn around their company or scale up past a growth barrier.

I’ve never been in a plane that ran out of fuel. Having fuel is such a critical part of travel but airlines plan carefully. I have never heard a pilot announce that we have to land in the wrong city because we need more jet fuel.1118_4634681 (1)

Non profits are having more and more trouble with fuel supplies. A lot of good trips to do good things are being cut short because the money ran out. Some groups have dreams of where they want to go but there is no way to fund the new idea.

Religious non profits are often a sub-group in special pain because they are in decline. It’s a lonely and failing feeling to be in charge but without cash.  How can that be turned around?

One of the 4 Decisions Tools is Cash. When I mentioned to my friend that I help nonprofits find cash, he immediately asked if I lead boards in fund raising campaigns. He took me by surprise since the 4 Decisions doesn’t start there. But in the non profit world – of course – fund raising is the magic wand that gets pointed at leaders of nonprofits as the answer to everything!

Fund raising sounds wonderful, but it cannot be the only method for most organizations. Big gifts can take a long time to cultivate and it takes a lot of $10 gifts to get most nonprofits past their difficult cash moments.

Nonprofit leaders actually have 10 levers to improve their cash. The more powerful levers don’t normally include Fund raising.

Let me give an example. In my own nonprofit, I was surprised by changes in health insurance and so we re bid all of our insurance contracts. To my great surprise, a new broker got us the same policy from the same company and the total quote reduced our costs by $34,000.

What is easier for you? Asking 340 people to give $100 or reducing the insurance bill? Something I like about the 4 Decisions Tools is that you will feel more empowered as a leader as you use them. When you have a cash problem, you are not a victim who is waiting for a million dollar gift. You have multiple tools to solve the problem and your team chooses several levers and keeps that plane in the air.

Scaling Up is the textbook for the 4 Decisions Tools and one section is on Cash. And I also offer a workshop on the 4 Decisions if your team is ready to fly with a full load of fuel 😊

If you want One Minute TurnArounds by email, please sign up!

GDPR – Your email is collected by an automated system so that the One Minute Manager posts can be sent. You will be invited twice a year to a two hour Scaling Up workshop for CEOs and EDs. Annually, you will be offered an Ebook and asked whether the resources of TurnAround Business Coaching are helpful.

A maximum of 10 companies per year develop a relationship for Business Coaching to turn around their company or scale up past a growth barrier.

People tell me that they don’t plan because they have no money. They ask, ‘Why plan if I have no money?’  I normally respond, ‘How do you know that you need money until you plan?’

People don’t like the challenge of planning before finding money. Too many people think that they need money — to think about money.

So here are 10 ideas for Strategic Planning that can reduce or remove the need for cash.

  1. Avoid capital intensive Strategic Plans – Forget your plan to start a new low cost airline from New York to Phnom Penh. You can’t even afford one engine! You also can’t start a luxury clothing store there either. Clothing has to be purchased in quantity in different sizes. Inventory of expensive brands is a large investment and requires cash.
  2. Avoid long term payoff Strategic Plans – You want to find the cure to cancer? You don’t have the time to wait 5 years for drug trials. Do you want to start a new daycare in New York City? It will take a year to update or build and license before it opens. You need to use cash to pay salaries and construction during all that time.
  3. Avoid low cost goods for resale. It’s very hard to buy low cost clothes from Honduras for resale. Walmart got there first and has the power of a volume purchase. They offer to buy $1 million of cheap clothes with only a 1% profit for the manufacturer. It sounds like a bad deal but it actually returns $10,000 in profit to the clothing company.

You come along next and want to buy $5,000 of the same cheap clothing. If you could get the same terms as Walmart, the clothing company would only receive a profit of $5 dollars from your order. They will laugh you out of San Pedro Sula.

Once you pay $6,000 for the same clothing, you will need to raise sale prices back in Phnom Penh. It’s a desperate game that is hard to win.

  1. Build a service based Strategic Plan. Why doesn’t Walmart take over nail salons? Nail salon expenses are mostly labor. Nail polish does not cost much nor does advertising. The playing field is more equal. It’s hard for Walmart to make more money than you in labor intensive business.
  2. Build a materials + labor based Strategic Plan – Since you can’t compete directly with the purchasing power of large companies, add a unique service to the product that you sell. For example, buy cheap clothes in Hionduras and add an identification tag printed with a name and address. The price is no longer comparable to the shirt by itself because you have added a service.
  3. Avoid a Strategic Plan that has a long cash conversion cycle – Dell Computers was an early company that charged customers as soon as the computer order was made. They had the cash before they made the computer! Contrast that to a specialty clothing store that has a large inventory that sells slowly. The store may be quite profitable but requires cash to buy the clothing and then wait a lengthy period of time for the sale.
  4. Avoid a Strategic Plan that requires high fixed costs – Renting a storefront in a mall or on a busy street will require cash even in the slow season. It’s better to sell ice cream from a cart than from a store. There is no rent and the cart can be taken to a warmer climate in winter months or stored. Street fairs are popular because there are no rental costs on the days that you choose not to be open.
  5. Avoid a Strategic Plan in regulated industries – Industries that involve government inspections and licenses take cash and time to learn. The companies that are already in the market have more opportunity. For example, in New York City, there is a great need for the service business of child care. It’s also a business that the City watches closely with inspections, licenses, and regulations. Each of those add to the cost of a service and require cash.
  6. Consider a Strategic Plan that generates loyalty – Let’s assume that you sell ice cream from a cart. You are always on the same corner and you memorize the name of every child who buys a cone. Children love that attention from adults and loyalty will become part of your business model. No cash required for loyalty
  7. Consider a Strategic Plan that assumes one time sales – Tourists often pay outrageous sums of money for trinkets to remember a trip. In Florida, you can pour sand into a bottle and sell Florida sand at the airport. Customers will never return to buy more but they really don’t care if you charge $10 for sand. Cash from a few sales pays for a lot of inventory.

And now, I return to my first point. You don’t need any money until you painfully create the Strategic Plan on how to invest and make more money. A plan that is good and usable is not easy to create. It’s going to take several months and need quarterly review after starting.

Some business ideas require less cash. And no business requires cash until you have a good Strategic Plan.

If you want One Minute TurnArounds by email, please sign up!

GDPR – Your email is collected by an automated system so that the One Minute Manager posts can be sent. You will be invited twice a year to a two hour Scaling Up workshop for CEOs and EDs. Annually, you will be offered an Ebook and asked whether the resources of TurnAround Business Coaching are helpful.

A maximum of 10 companies per year develop a relationship for Business Coaching to turn around their company or scale up past a growth barrier.

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