What Is Fund Accounting? Meaning, Importance and How It Works


Fund accounting is an accounting system. It is used by nonprofit and government organizations to focus on accountability for how they spend resources offered by donors or taxpayers that are designated for a particular purpose.

“Fund” utilized in this context doesn’t refer to a property account, such as a mutual fund account, however rather the grouping of resources by the purpose they are intended to fund. By monitoring these funds, supervisors, donors and other stakeholders can ensure that nonprofits are spending contributions and profits as agreed upon or required by law.

There are some slight differences in between fund accounting for nonprofit organizations and government entities. This article focuses on helping nonprofits comprehend the fundamentals of fund accounting.

Fund accounting basics

Nonprofits must separate all their activities by fund. Essentially, each fund will have its own set of books and financial statements, but fund accounting software application will account for all funds concurrently in a single system and integrate all funds automatically into a single set of monetary declarations for the company. However, fund accounting software can also supply monetary declarations separated by fund when required.

When a not-for-profit records activity, it requires to not only pick the accounts impacted however also designate a fund. For instance, when a donation is gotten, it’s inadequate to tape-record the invoice of cash and the contribution earnings– you must also designate the fund for which this activity belongs.

Example financial declarations by fund

To show how each fund has its own set of financial statements, here is a sample balance sheet and statement of activities separated by fund for a hypothetical not-for-profit. Externally provided monetary declarations usually will only reveal the quantities in the total column, but keep in mind that even the total column separates the “net possessions” section of the balance sheet by fund (yellow highlights).

Example balance sheet by fund

Overall Unlimited general fund Unlimited capital expense fund Completely restricted – donor endowment
Cash 121,000 105,000 11,000 5,000
Investments 1,215,000 15,000 1,200,000
Set possessions 500,000 500,000

Total properties





Accounts payable 13,000 13,000
Home mortgage payable 150,000 150,000
Total liabilities 163,000 13,000 150,000
Net assets

Unlimited basic fund



Unlimited capital investment fund



Permanently limited – donor endowment



Total net possessions





Total liabilities and net assets





Example declaration of activities by fund

Overall General fund Capital investment fund Permanently limited – donor endowment
Revenues and assistance
Contributions 350,000 350,000
Investment income 110,000 110,000
Overall rev and support 460,000 460,000
Program services 325,000 325,000
Fundraising 10,000 10,000
Administrative 85,000 80,000 5,000
Overall costs 420,000 415,000 5,000
Modification in net properties 40,000 45,000 — 5,000
Starting in net properties 1,633,000 47,000 381,000 1,205,000

Ending net possessions





Notification that the monetary statements do not just balance in the total column, but each fund column likewise individually balances. On the balance sheet, total assets equals total liabilities plus net properties (blue highlights) for each column. The ending net properties on the statement of activities equates to the total net possessions on the balance sheet (green highlights) for each column.

Types of funds in fund accounting

When contributions to a nonprofit are designated by the donor for a particular purpose, they must be accounted for separately from other funds. Nonprofits develop separate accounting by producing multiple funds of the following types:

  • Permanently restricted: Completely restricted funds can just be utilized for a specified purpose, such as contributions that develop a permanent endowment whose principal can never ever be spent.
  • Temporarily restricted: Donations create temporarily restricted funds when they can only be used for a specific purpose up until that purpose is accomplished or in some cases after a particular amount of time has elapsed.
  • Unrestricted funds: Nonprofits are not bound legally to utilize unlimited funds in any particular way.

Some companies might not have any limited funds, but all should have at least one unlimited fund– normally called a general fund. Numerous companies choose to develop multiple unrestricted funds to track contributions and costs for several goals or activities.

For example, a church might track the following unlimited funds:

  • Unrestricted missionary fund.
  • Unlimited capital investment fund.
  • Unrestricted general fund.

While limited funds are created by donors making limited donations, unrestricted funds are developed by the not-for-profit’s management group for specific programs that they want to track individually from the general fund. Quantities in unlimited funds can be transferred to other funds if management decides they are required.

In the example above, the church has allocated a portion of its resources to the missionary fund and capital expense fund. These unlimited funds can be reallocated later on if needed. These unlimited funds leave out contributions where the donor particularly instructed the church that the contribution must be used for missionary work. If the church accepts that donation, then it would need to develop a new fund called, “Briefly restricted missionary fund.”

Significance of fund accounting

Fund accounting is crucial to make sure that nonprofits are adhering to stipulations established by donors. In addition to restricted funds, tracking unrestricted funds by the purpose is useful to stay liable to not-for-profit stakeholders and factors. Even donors who don’t specify a specific usage are typically interested in how their donations are being invested.

Fund accounting assists not-for-profit managers from overspending in one location to the detriment of another. Knowing the funds readily available for each of the major activities of the company helps the budgeting process and with spreading out the readily available resources appropriately across activities.

Who uses fund accounting?

Users of fund accounting can be split into 3 groups based on the complexity of their operations. The requirement of a strong understanding of fund accounting varies considerably amongst these groups.

1. Very small nonprofits with a single function

Extremely little companies might have a single unrestricted fund, so fund accounting is quite basic as all net possessions of the company belong in the single fund. These companies can typically use low-cost accounting software created for for-profit organizations without any unique adjustments.

The quantity revealed as owner’s equity on the for-profit balance sheet should be labeled as unrestricted possessions. Visit our guide to the best accounting software to find budget friendly for-profit accounting software application that will work for nonprofits with only one fund.

2. Larger nonprofits without limited funds

While there is no requirement to establish numerous unrestricted funds, bigger companies that gather donations and spend money on numerous programs can benefit significantly from utilizing fund accounting.

Each significant program should have a different unlimited fund. By tracking the donations, profits and costs separately, donors can see how their donations are being invested. In addition to transparency, the separate funds guarantee that managers know the specific resources available for each function.

3. Nonprofits with limited funds

Fund accounting ends up being seriously crucial for organizations accepting restricted donations. Restricted donations are generally large donations that feature legal files, such as a will or trust, which supply very specific, legally enforceable terms on how the cash can be utilized. If nonprofits invest the money in any other method, they can be sued by the donor or their agents.

Fund accounting best practices

1. Use accounting software application designed for fund accounting

Traditional accounting software application are not designed to be used for fund accounting. While nonprofits without any restricted funds and just one unrestricted fund can get by using conventional for-profit software, other organizations require to buy fund accounting software application. Fund accounting software application tends to be a bit more costly however will reduce fund accounting errors.

A less-expensive choice to true fund accounting software is to use QuickBooks and produce a class for each fund. You can print your financial statements separated by class, which simulates fund accounting. You’ll need to be watchful to constantly assign a class to every transaction. Visit our guide to the very best not-for-profit accounting for extra choices.

2. Create limited funds

It is vital that a different restricted fund is produced for each contribution or set of donations with distinct restrictions and costs requirements. If you get limited donations through wills frequently, you’ll require a different restricted fund for each bequeath.

3. Create unlimited funds moderately

While it is good to develop separate unrestricted funds for your major program services, creating needlessly narrow unlimited funds will trigger headaches without adding much value to your accounting system. For instance, if you handle a number of homeless shelters, it’s probably unnecessary to produce a separate unrestricted fund for each location.

4. Offer your donors a list of projects to support

Numerous donors like to have input on how their cash is spent, so you can save a lot of headaches by enabling them to pick from a list of restricted funds for which you’re looking for extra assistance. Donors often do not understand what an incredible accounting headache they develop when they designate their contribution for a distinct function.

For example, state you’re a nonprofit offering childcare to enable moms and dads to go to classes you provide. A thoughtful donor may believe that is a wonderful concept and designate that their donation approach this program. Nevertheless, they do not realize that for the not-for-profit to accept their donation, it needs to create a separate restricted funds account.

5. Reconsider before accepting restricted funds

It’s hard to turn away cash, however believe things through before accepting limited funds if you’re a small organization. You need to be 100% confident that your not-for-profit has the appropriate fund accounting, controls and oversight to ensure the cash is invested correctly.

Be sure to think about if you’ll require to sustain additional expenditures like upgrading to a more advanced accounting software application or outsourcing your accounting to a not-for-profit accounting pro. Errors can lead to litigation that might drag your company through the mud and impact contributions from other donors.

Before reimbursing limited donations, explain your situation to the donor and see if they’ll permit you to accept the contribution as unlimited. This might work for small donations; for instance, when a donor supplies a designated purpose in the memo area of their check. However, larger limited donations through trusts and estates might not be flexible.

6. Don’t physically segregate properties by fund

As gone over above, each fund is basically its own set of books total with properties, liabilities and a fund balance. However, it is unnecessary– along with frequently develops unneeded work– to separate each fund’s possessions physically in a separate checking account. For example, cash for all funds can be kept in the very same checking account and then each fund’s share of the examining account balance is tracked in the fund accounting software application.

Difference in between fund accounting vs. regular accounting

Fund accounting Regular accounting
Objective Provides accountability to show that organization resources are invested in accordance with legal requirements and donor objectives Procedures earnings and loss for a period and tracks earnings that are paid to owners versus retained by the business
Best for Not-for-profit and federal government companies For-profit companies consisting of sole owners, partnerships, S-corps and C-corps
Needed financial statements Balance sheet
Declaration of activities and alter in net assets
Statement of cash flow
Balance sheet
Declaration of revenue and loss
Statement of cash flow
Declaration of owner’s equity
Balance sheet formula Possessions = Liabilities + Fund Balance Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity
Net property accounts Permanently restricted funds
Momentarily restricted funds
Unrestricted funds
Contributed capital
Maintained incomes
Main users of financial declarations Donors, taxpayers, lenders and regulators Owners, financial institutions and regulators
Intricacy of accounting More complex than regular accounting due to the fact that all transactions must be designated to particular funds Less complex than fund accounting

Frequently asked questions

What is the concept of funds in accounting?

Funds in accounting can sometimes describe offered money, however when utilized in the context of “fund accounting,” it’s various. In fund accounting, a fund is a separate set of books kept by nonprofits that tracks the properties, liabilities, earnings and expenses designated for a specific purpose. Nonprofit accounting integrates all the different funds into a single set of monetary declarations.

What do you suggest by fund-based accounting?

Nonprofit and government companies use fund accounting to track possessions, liabilities, income and costs independently for designated functions. It provides extra openness and responsibility to stakeholders by showing how contributions and incomes are invested.

What does a fund accounting professional do?

“Fund accounting professional” can describe two totally distinct tasks. In financial investment accounting, a fund accounting professional helps record deals and calculate the fair market price of a mutual fund, such as mutual funds. In nonprofit and federal government accounting, a fund accountant is an accountant with specialized knowledge of how to separately track activity by designated functions.

Bottom line

Fund accounting requires nonprofit and federal government organizations to represent restricted or designated funds independently from unrestricted funds. This is done by creating a separate set of books for each needed fund. Great fund accounting software is vital as it enables the upkeep of a different set of books for each fund while also being able to consolidate them quickly into a single set of financial declarations.


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