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Local government CAFRs and nonprofit financial reports

In my PA5003 course I ask students to collect the comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) of a local government for three consecutive years. It is a key expectation of this course for them to understand these financial reports: to know what kinds of financial information are included, how they are organized, how are the numbers related to each other, and how these numbers as a whole representing a complete picture of the organization's financial condition.

There are a substantial number of students interested in nonprofit management. They may want to use financial reports of a nonprofit rather than a government, which is conditionally allowed but not encouraged. It is allowed, because curiosity and interests are the best teachers and I am glad to facilitate your inquiry. It is not encouraged, however, for two reasons:

1. Public and nonprofit organizations are closely related: they share the same missions for the delivery of common goods, they have the same calling of accountability, and they have tight budget connections in service delivery. It is critical for you to understand how governments function even if your future career goal is in the nonprofit sector;

2. The financial reporting system is complicated for governments, but even more complicated for nonprofits -- not because of technical difficulty, it is due to the lack of standard and uniformity. The nonprofit sector is outnumber and more diverse than local governments. States vary in their financial reporting requirements for nonprofits. Even for a same requirement like IRS 990, the quality of compliance is low. For all these reasons, it may be more difficult for you to learn or simply to finish assignments if you are using financial reports of NPOs.

Having said that, if you are still fixed for NPOs, here comes some criteria for screening:

1. The annual budget (total expenditure) of the NPO should be larger than 50k;
2. The NPO is registered in Minnesota which has higher requirements of nonprofit financial reporting than many other states;
3. The financial reports should be "audited financial statements" and include the following information:
a. types of assets, types of liabilities, and net assets;
b. types of revenue from different sources, and expenditures by functions areas


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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs