The corporate connection: financial reporting in a large religious/charitable organization in Australia
Nonprofit organizations operate in an increasingly corporatised, competitive environment. More and more, as institutions with charitable agenda, they need to promote an image that will enhance their ability to attract the funding they require in order to continue their operations. Competition for donations is becoming more intense and society is increasing its expectations about the level of accountability desirable from such organizations. One means by which nonprofit organizations can address this issue of accountability, and present themselves to the public as financially sound and worthy of receiving donations, is through their annual financial statements. As accounting practices have changed over time, it has been essential for religious/charitable and other nonprofit organizations to present a financial image in keeping with that which is valued and esteemed by society. They may have a “sacred” agenda, but in a changing environment where attitudes to religion and religious organizations have changed, where social problems abound and the need for their services is increasing, where philanthropy is rapidly becoming an industry, and government funding is increasingly tied to performance, nonprofit organizations have had to adopt “secular” accounting practices in order to survive. Borrowed from the corporate world, these accounting practices are in the process of being institutionalized into the nonprofit sector, as an aid to ensuring financial survival. This paper has as its focus one of two Australian divisions of an international religious/charitable organization. It was the subject of a twelve month study. The division relies heavily on the general public for donations, works hard to increase corporate sponsorship, and also depends on the government for funding. The organization has responded to society’s demands for more financial accountability by presenting financial statements based on accrual accounting and in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. While the production of an image-enhancing report has been achieved, the cost has been substantial, not just financially, but in organizational, personnel and cultural terms. Given that world-wide, nonprofit organizations are operating in a similar environment, there will be many such organizations undergoing similar changes in their style of financial reporting. Based on this case, these transitions are likely also to be painful, but perceived as necessary, with the benefits being in terms of image rather than technical usefulness.
This conference paper was originally published as Irvine, HJ, The corporate connection: financial reporting in a large religious/charitable organization in Australia, Proceedings of Financial Reporting and Business Communication Research Unit, Fourth Annual Conference Cardiff Business School, 6-7 July 2000.