How to Track Expenses in a Nonprofit

Nonprofit expense tracking is the process of systematically recording, categorizing, and monitoring all the expenditures and costs incurred by a nonprofit organization. Effective expense tracking is crucial for maintaining financial accountability, making informed budgetary decisions, and ensuring that resources are used efficiently and in alignment with the organization’s mission. Here’s an explanation of nonprofit expense tracking:

  1. Expense Categories:
    • Nonprofits classify expenses into various categories to better understand where funds are being allocated. Common categories include program expenses, administrative expenses, fundraising expenses, and direct project costs.
  2. Chart of Accounts:
    • A well-structured chart of accounts is essential for expense tracking. It’s a standardized list of account codes that represent different expense categories. Each expense transaction is assigned to a specific account code.
  3. Receipts and Documentation:
    • Nonprofits should maintain all receipts, invoices, bills, and other relevant documentation for each expense. These documents serve as evidence of the transaction and provide necessary details for accurate recording.
  4. Expense Tracking System:
    • Nonprofits use accounting software or financial management systems to record and track expenses. These systems help streamline the process and provide real-time insights into the organization’s financial health.
  5. Data Entry and Coding:
    • As expenses occur, they are entered into the tracking system with accurate coding based on the chart of accounts. This ensures proper categorization and accurate reporting.
  6. Approval Workflow:
    • Establish an approval process for expenses to ensure that expenditures are authorized before being recorded. This helps prevent unauthorized spending and ensures compliance with budgetary controls.
  7. Budget Comparison:
    • Regularly compare actual expenses to the budgeted amounts. This allows nonprofits to identify any deviations, address overspending, and make necessary adjustments to stay within budget.
  8. Allocate Costs to Programs:
    • For expenses that benefit multiple programs or projects, nonprofits allocate costs based on the proportion of benefits each program receives. This helps accurately reflect the cost of each program.
  9. Staff Reimbursements:
    • If staff members incur expenses on behalf of the organization, ensure a process is in place for submitting and tracking reimbursement requests, with proper documentation.
  10. Credit Card and Bank Statements:
    • Reconcile credit card and bank statements regularly to ensure that all expenses have been accurately recorded and accounted for.
  11. Grant and Project Tracking:
    • If funds are restricted or designated for specific projects or grants, track expenses associated with those grants separately to ensure compliance and accurate reporting to funders.
  12. Timely Recording:
    • Record expenses as soon as they occur to prevent errors and ensure that financial statements reflect the most up-to-date information.
  13. Reports and Analysis:
    • Generate regular financial reports that provide insights into expense patterns, trends, and budgetary performance. These reports aid in decision-making and financial planning.
  14. Auditing and Compliance:
    • Well-maintained expense records are essential for financial audits and reviews. Accurate expense tracking demonstrates compliance and financial transparency.
  15. Transparency and Accountability:
    • Transparent expense tracking demonstrates the organization’s responsible stewardship of funds and builds trust with donors, supporters, and stakeholders.

Nonprofit expense tracking is a fundamental practice that supports financial management, budgeting, and decision-making. By maintaining accurate and organized records of expenses, nonprofits can effectively manage their financial resources and demonstrate their commitment to achieving their mission.

Caroline Grimm

Caroline Grimm is an accounting educator and a small business enthusiast. She holds Masters and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration. She is the author of 13 books and the creator of Accounting How To YouTube channel and blog. For more information visit:

Recent Posts